Leftist millennial wins election as Chile’s president
SANTIAGO, Chile — A leftist millennial who rose to prominence during anti-government protests was elected Chile’s next president Sunday after a bruising campaign against a freemarket firebrand likened to Donald Trump.
With almost 99 percent of polling stations reporting, Gabriel Boric won 56 percent of the votes, compared to 44 percent for his opponent, lawmaker Jose Antonio Kast.
In a model of civility that broke from the polarizing rhetoric of the campaign, Kast immediately recognized defeat, tweeting a photo of himself on the phone with his opponent congratulating him on his “grand triumph.” Meanwhile outgoing President Sebastian Pinera — a conservative billionaire — held a video conference with Boric to offer his government’s full support during the three month transition.
“I am going to be the president of all Chileans,” Boric said in the brief televised appearance with Pinera.
Boric’s victory is likely to be felt throughout Latin America, where ideological divisions have been on the rise amid the coronavirus pandemic, which reversed a decade of economic gains, exposed longstanding deficiencies in health care and deepened inequality.
At 35, Boric will become Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March and only the second millennial to lead in Latin America, after El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele.
He was among several activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for higher quality education. On the stump, he vowed to “bury” the neoliberal economic model left by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship and raise taxes on the “super rich” to expand social services, fight inequality and boost protections of the environment.
Kast, who has a history of defending Chile’s past military dictatorship, finished ahead of Boric by two points in the first round of voting last month but failed to secure a majority of votes. That set up a head-tohead runoff against Boric.
Boric was able to reverse the difference by a larger margin than pre-election opinion polls forecast by expanding beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracting voters in rural areas who don’t side with political extremes. For example, in the northern region of Antofagasta, where he finished third in the first round of voting, he trounced Kast by almost 20 points.
An additional 1.2 million Chileans cast ballots Sunday compared to the first round, raising turnout to 55 percent, the highest since voting stopped
being mandatory in 2012.
Kast, 55, a devout Roman Catholic and father of nine, emerged from the far right fringe after having won less than 8 percent of the vote in 2017. An admirer of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, he rose steadily in the polls this time with a divisive discourse emphasizing conservative family values and playing on Chileans’ fears that a surge in migration — from Haiti and Venezuela — is driving crime.
As a lawmaker he has a record of attacking Chile’s LGBTQ community and advocating more restrictive abortion laws. He also accused outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, a fellow conservative, of betraying the economic legacy of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the country’s former military leader. Kast’s brother, Miguel, was one of Pinochet’s top advisers.
“I’m very relieved,” said Monica Salinero, a teacher who joined in the celebration of Boric’s victory at the Plaza Italia in Santiago, the site of protests in 2019.
In recent days, both candidates tried to veer toward the center.