Former student protest leader Gabriel Boric wins Chilean elections

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Gabriel Boric, the former leader of the student protests, won the last round Chile‘s presidential election as a Latin American country has made a decisive shift to the left after years of civil unrest.

Boric won 56 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s second round, well ahead of José Antonio Cast, his ultra-conservative rival, with 44 per cent.

“I will be the president of all Chileans, whether you vote for me or not,” Boric said. The 35-year-old newly elected president, who will take office on March 11th, said he would push for unity after a bitter struggle between the extremes of the political spectrum.

Boric, who became famous a decade ago during street protests against education inequality, is the first leader to come from outside the central political current that has largely ruled Chile since his return to democracy in 1990.

He is also the youngest Chilean president in more than two centuries and the first to secure a victory in the second round after losing in 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 left-wing coalition that includes the Chilean Communist Party, said he would oppose mining initiatives that “destroy” the environment. This included controversial ones A $ 2.5 billion Domingo mining project which was approved this year.

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

Boric vowed to bring in higher taxes, higher public spending, the abolition of private pension systems and student debt, as well as other reforms aimed at empowering women, indigenous groups and minorities.

Congress, however, is likely to prove to be a major obstacle to its reforms. The lower house is “practically level” after the November 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, “do not listen to anyone’s instructions”.

Other difficult challenges include a delicate recast of the constitution to replace a text that deeply divided the 1980s adopted during the regime of General Augusto Pinochet.

For his critics, Boric is an inexperienced radical. His opponents fear he could try to build an authoritarian socialist state in Latin America, similar to that in Venezuela or Cuba.

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

Thousands of Chileans gathered 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 would lose all the gains we had made from the social uprising,” said 34-year-old Claudia Silva, referring to the Anti-Government Protest Mass in October 2019.

Gabriel Boric is casting his vote in Punta Arenas, on the southern tip of Chile, on Sunday
Gabriel Boric votes in Punta Arenas, on the south side of Chile, on Sunday © Getty Images

The outbreak of an epidemic, or an explosion, a demonstration two years ago alarmed Chileans accustomed to decades of order and stability. Initial unrest, fueled by rising ticket prices in the Santiago metro, has led to a long list of public demands due to 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 had been “moved to secondary positions” and that there had been a “radical rejuvenation of the political class”.

The turnout was unusually high. An additional 1.2 million people voted on Sunday compared to the first round in November, increasing the overall turnout to nearly 56 percent, the highest number in any presidential race since voting became voluntary in 2012.

For Marta Lagos, a Chilean pollist, the election showed how much Chilean politics and society have changed over the past decade, with the shift of power from traditional elites to the younger generation.

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