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Explained: Gabriel Boric, the former student leader who is set to be Chile’s youngest president

🔴 Gabriel Boric won with 56% of the votes, while his opponent 55-year-old José Antonio Kast trailed with 44% of the votes.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 21, 2021 8:28:02 am
Chile's President elect Gabriel Boric, of the "I approve Dignity" coalition, speaks to his supporters after his victory in the presidential run-off election in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)

Leftist former student leader, 35-year-old Gabriel Boric, will become Chile’s youngest president and one of the youngest political leaders in the world. Boric won with 56% of the votes, while his opponent 55-year-old José Antonio Kast trailed with 44% of the votes.

These elections have been one of the most polarised in Chile’s history and there have been several socio-political and economic factors that have contributed to it. The elections were preceded by the nationwide protests that started in 2019 as massive riots in the capital Santiago, in response to the rise in the city’s subway fare, which later spread across the country and grew to include anger towards rising inequality, privatisation and increasing cost of living.

In an editorial, Chile Today, an independent news publication in the country explained some reasons why voters picked Boric. “Boric ran a remarkable campaign. Rather than scaring potential voters into choosing him or fascism, he demonstrated why he deserved their vote. And although his slogan of hope over fear, reminiscent of Obama’s, was pushed at every turn, it did not consume the concrete proposals at hand, presented plausibly,” the editorial said.

The editorial’s mention of scaring voters and fascism is important. Chile survived the brutal 16-year military dictatorship of the US-backed right-wing Augusto Pinochet, between 1973-1990, during whose regime the country witnessed suppression, violence and brutality.

More than 3,000 were tortured and killed, and countless were declared missing during this period. During the regime, thousands of Chileans found themselves forced into exile.

Boric’s opponent Kast, had openly defended Pinochet’s legacy during the election campaign. But that may have been because Kast has family ties to Pinochet. The Guardian reported that Kast’s brother Miguel served as the central bank president during the regime. “If he were alive, he would have voted for me….We would have had tea together” in the presidential palace,” the report quoted him saying during the 2017 campaign.

Unexpected presidential candidate

Boric was not a prominent political figure in national politics in Chile and an unexpected presidential candidate. “He just reached the threshold of 35,000 signatures needed to be a candidate. But then he beat out the popular Santiago-region mayor, Daniel Jadue, of the Communist Party, to lead the leftist alliance,” said a Reuters report.

The report added that a large percentage of Boris’ supporters are the country’s youth, who have effectively used social media and trends like memes to express support, online and on the ground.

After the vote count made it clear that Boric was the winner, Kast accepted his defeat and reportedly called to congratulate Boric. His relative inexperience in public office, especially in comparison with opponents, was regularly used as criticism, which is another factor that makes his win remarkable.

Standing in La Alameda, the main avenue in Santiago, Boric spoke to thousands of supporters who had gathered to celebrate his victory. “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…We no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality,” Boric said.

“The times ahead will not be easy…Only with social cohesion, re-finding ourselves and sharing common ground will we be able to advance towards truly sustainable development – which reaches every Chilean,” a Guardian report quoted him saying.

Chile has been undergoing important political developments. In July this year, the country’s newly elected constitutional assembly began drafting the new Constitution. That was a significant milestone, because the assembly had been formed in a way that represented the country’s diverse population, a process that comes with its own challenges. This constitution is expected to be submitted to a referendum in 2022 and Boris’ presidency will have to tackle the responses to it that various groups across the country are certain to have.

When Boris takes office, the widespread anger that people have about the everyday difficulties in the country, which contributed to propelling him to achieving this victory, may demand immediate action and results. Any perceived failures on his part, may lead to neo-pinochet forces further inflaming the fires caused by disappointment.

Boric will take office in March next year. In a call with the current President Sebastian Pinera on Sunday night, a Reuters report quoted him saying: “I am going to be a president of all Chileans, whether you voted for me or not…I am going to do my best to get on top of this tremendous challenge.”

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