Former student protest leader Gabriel Boric wins Chile election

Former student protest leader Gabriel Boric wins Chile election

Gabriel Boric, a former student protest leader, has won the final round of Chile’s presidential election as the Latin American country took a decisive shift to the left after several years of civil unrest.

Boric secured 56 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff, well ahead of José Antonio Kast, his ultra-conservative rival, on 44 per cent.

“I am going to be the president of all Chileans, whether you voted for me or not,” said Boric. The 35-year-old president-elect, who will take office on March 11, said he would strive for unity after a bitter contest between extremes of the political spectrum.

Boric, who shot to fame a decade ago during street protests against inequality in education, is the first leader to come from outside the centrist political mainstream that has largely ruled Chile since its return to democracy in 1990.

He is also the youngest Chilean president in more than two centuries and the first to secure a second-round victory after losing the first round.

Kast, a 55-year-old former congressman and father of nine, immediately conceded defeat on Sunday and congratulated Boric on his “great triumph”.

​​During his victory speech, Boric, who is part of a broad leftwing coalition that includes the Chilean Communist party, said he would oppose mining initiatives that “destroy” the environment. That included the contentious $2.5bn Dominga mining project that was approved this year.

“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights, and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” he said.

Boric has pledged to enact higher taxes, greater public spending, the scrapping of private pension schemes and student debt, as well as other reforms intended to empower women, indigenous groups and minorities.

Congress, however, will probably prove a big obstacle to his reforms. The lower house is “practically tied” after November’s general election, Eugenio Tironi, a Chilean sociologist, told the Financial Times. There are 21 different parties in the lower house and many parliamentarians, he said, “don’t obey instructions from anyone”.

Other stiff challenges include the delicate redrafting of a constitution to replace the deeply divisive text adopted in 1980 during General Augusto Pinochet’s regime.

To his critics, Boric is a radical who lacks experience. His opponents fear he may try to build an authoritarian socialist state in Latin America, akin to that of Venezuela or Cuba.

Boric has described himself as a moderate but previously said he wanted to bury the country’s “neoliberal” past of market-oriented policies that have failed to narrow social divisions.

Thousands of Chileans gathered on Sunday night to celebrate along La Alameda, Santiago’s main avenue, waving banners.

“When Kast won in the first round, I honestly felt a sense of panic because I thought we were going to lose all the gains we’ve made since the social uprising,” said 34-year-old Claudia Silva, referring to the mass anti-government protests in October 2019.

Gabriel Boric casts his vote in Punta Arenas, on Chile’s southern tip, on Sunday
Gabriel Boric casts his vote in Punta Arenas, on Chile’s southern tip, on Sunday © Paul Plaza Amar/Getty Images

The estallido, or explosion, of demonstrations two years ago alarmed Chileans used to decades of order and stability. The initial unrest, triggered by fare increases on the Santiago metro, gave rise to a long list of public demands over income inequality and high living costs.

With this election “Chile has definitely changed”, said Tironi, who added that the forces that had ruled the country for three decades “were displaced to secondary places”, and that there had been “a radical rejuvenation of the political class”.

Turnout was unusually high. A further 1.2m people cast ballots on Sunday compared with November’s first round, boosting overall turnout to nearly 56 per cent, the highest of any presidential race since voting became voluntary in 2012.

For Marta Lagos, a Chilean pollster, the election demonstrated how much Chile’s politics and society had changed over the past decade, with power shifting from traditional elites to a younger generation.

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