21st of December, 2021: Chile faced the most difficult choice since the time of dictatorship: who will be the next leader of the republic — «the supporter of Pinochet regime» or «leftwing millennial»? All political experts agreed on one thing — this election is the most important since the government of general Augusto Pinochet, as it will determine the future direction of Chile for the next few years.
After the second round of the presidential election, Boric won with 55,8% of the votes, surpassing his right-wing opponent Jose Antonio Kast who scored 44,1% according to the Electoral Service of Chile. And already on 11th of March this year, he will be sworn in as the youngest president of Chile’s history and as the president elected with the highest number of votes in the country’s history.
Why Is It Important?
The extremely opposite views of Boric and Kast clearly demonstrate the political situation in Chile for the past few years. At the end of 2019, the country was gripped by mass protests, which main reasons was the significant economic inequality, low salaries and pensions,bad quality of the educational and health systems, the latter being on the verge of collapse while the political system of the country favored the elite, as claimed by the protesters. The rioters also demanded the acceptance of a new constitution of Chile replacing the old one inherited from Pinochet’s blood dictatorship. At that time the government of President Sebastian Pinera agreed to a referendum in which 78% of the population supported the new constitution. Boric’s political platform was riding on that wave, as it included proposals for a more inclusive public health system, the canceling of student debt, the raise of taxes for the super-wealthy, and a revision of the state’s private pension system. His opponent Kast, instead, got the reputation of an ardent supporter of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet’s regime and the free market. Indeed, his agenda includes a tax cut for companies, building walls in the north of Chile to prevent migrants from entering illegally and abolishing abortion.
Considering the recent past in which the country’s economic growth was hard-hit by the pandemic and the brutal clashes between protesters and security forces, Boric’s vision connects with the agenda: welfare state model, support of abortion rights, climate change, diversity and direct democracy.
From Student Protester to Leftist Hero
Boric was born on 11 February 1986, in the country’s most southern region — Punta Arenas, in a family of immigrants from Croatia and Spain. He attended one of the most elite private schools in his hometown before moving to Santiago to study at the University of Chile’s law school. However, after failing final exams, he didn’t receive a law degree but became interested in human rights activism.
In 2011, after being elected as the president of University of Chile Student Federation, Boric became one of the main leaders of the historical student protests demanding free education for all, which finally led to a wide educational reform. In 2013, he was chosen as representative of Region Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic in the Chamber of Deputies and in 2017, he started his own political party, the Autonomist Movement.
In October 2019, while massive protests paralyzed the country as dozens demonstrated for a better pension, education and the reform of the country’s economic system, Boric quickly became a vocal representative of this social movement. There, he boosted his leadership by supporting the impeachment of President Piñera and the establishment of a new constitution.
Bearded, tattooed and rarely seen wearing a tie, Boric represents a break from the traditional image of presidential candidates. He is perceived more as an emotional leader: during the campaign, he publicly disclosed his obsessive-compulsive disorder and stressed out the fact that Chile started to talk about mental health.
While critics call him inexperienced, he himself acknowledges that he has «much to learn». Chileans want that kind of head of the state, a person who can accept his mistakes and apologize for them publicly, protect all citizens like a mother protects her children, and be on the wave of immediate changes. For the citizens, Boris is the perfect representation of this.
Hope Trumpeted Fear
Only two years ago, the streets of Santiago,Chile’s capital city, were filled with thousands of rioters the violence of the police and expressing generalized rage at the elite. That Sunday — those scenes repeated themselves, but the crowds were there to celebrate Boric’s win, hooting their approval, brandishing pro-Boric placards, waving multi-colored LGBTQ flags, and shouting: «Viva Chile!»
Boric’s road ahead is far from simple: a divided congress, severe economic slowdowns and mistrust over his alliance with communist party. However, he’s a millennial who fits the outlook of many of his generation, a leftist, for sure, but out of the old school politicians. Plus, he has the support of the nation.
In his victory speech, when he was joined by his girlfriend, he promised to be a «President for the Chileans», saying: «We must continue to be one, we must continue to come together to bring about the changes that the country needs so much”.
This is how we will do it, by governing with all the people. Adding ideas, opening doors, building bridges. This is how we will go, step by step, building a just homeland little by little, day by day.»
Reforms at the right pace are the mantra for Chile at the start of this new decade. Whether president-elect Boric will manage to pull them through is an open question. Yet there is no doubt that he has an opportunity to lift Chile into another stage of its development.
- Redacción Chile (20 December, 2021). «Gabriel Boric, speech as President-elect». Pressenza
- (12 January, 2022). «Gabriel Boric officially proclaimed Chilean president elect; takes office March 11». MercoPress
- John Bartlett (20 December, 2021). «Who is Gabriel Boric? The medical student leader who will be Chile’s next president». The Guardian
- Ethan Bronner (21 December, 2021). «New President at 35 Thrusts Chile Back Into Exceptionalism Role». Bloomberg
- «Gabriel Boric». WikipediA: The Free Encyclopedia