Santiago (AFP), December 18 – The streets of Santiago erupted in celebration on Sunday after left-wing millennial Gabriel Boric became Chile’s youngest elected president with an unexpected victory over his far-right rival in a polarizing race.
Boric, 35, collected nearly 56% of the vote against 44% for ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast, who conceded even before the final result was known.
Tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets of the capital and other towns after the Kast concession, honking their horns in approval, holding up pro-Boric signs, waving the rainbow LGBTQ flag and shouting : “Long live Chile!
Fireworks lit the sky for hours.
“I’m delighted, I cry with joy. We have dealt a blow to fascism! Pharmacy worker Jennie Enriquez, 45, told AFP.
“I am happy because there are going to be many changes that will help the people and the working class,” added Luis Astorga, 58, a construction worker.
Boric had campaigned on the promise of installing a “social welfare” state, raising taxes and social spending in a country with one of the world’s biggest gaps between rich and poor.
Described as “communist” by his detractors, he pledged Sunday in his first official speech to “extend social rights” in Chile, but with “fiscal responsibility”.
“We will do it by protecting our macro economy, we will do it well … to improve pensions and health care,” he said.
– “Grand triumph” –
Kast congratulated Boric, who heads an alliance that includes the Chilean Communist Party, “on his great triumph.”
“As of today, he is the elected president of Chile and he deserves our respect and our constructive cooperation. Chile always comes first.
Kast is an apologist for the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet and his neoliberal economic model, credited with Chile’s relative wealth but blamed for its deep-rooted social inequalities.
He opposes same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion, and initially pledged to shut down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, a promise he later recanted.
According to a projection by the Chilean electoral body of Servel, the turnout has exceeded 55%, a record since voting became voluntary in 2012.
Boric won by a margin of nearly a million out of 8.3 million ballots cast by 15 million eligible voters.
“It is clear that more young people have come out, it seems clear (…) that Boric has succeeded in mobilizing the most difficult segment to mobilize, which is the youth segment,” Claudia Heiss told AFP of the University of Chile.
“All the anti-rights (Kast), anti-women, anti-gay talk, I think that helped mobilize this young segment,” she added.
The new president will face the difficult task of healing a society reeling from a polarizing campaign full of adversarial attacks and fake news.
For a country that has voted centrist since Pinochet’s democratic ouster 31 years ago, it was a difficult choice between two opposing political outsiders.
Boric on Sunday reiterated his plans for “a more humane Chile, a more dignified Chile, a more equal Chile”.
Congratulations are pouring in from elsewhere in Latin America, from ex-Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Cuban leader Miguel Diaz-Canel and Argentinian Alberto Fernandez on the left, to right-wing presidents Ivan Duque of Colombia and Guillermo Lasso from Ecuador.
Boric and Kast had relaxed their policy proposals in an attempt to woo left-wing Chileans with no obvious candidate when they split the centrist vote in the first round, leaving only two poles apart.
Both represent parties that have never been in government.
– ‘President of all Chileans’ –
Chile is going through a profound transformation after having voted overwhelmingly last year in favor of the development of a new constitution to replace the one promulgated under Pinochet.
The 2020 referendum was a response to an anti-inequality social uprising in 2019 that left dozens dead.
The drafting process, in the hands of a mostly left-wing body elected in May, is due to culminate in a constitution for approval next year, under the oversight of the new president.
President Sebastian Pinera, who is leaving office with a low approval rating, said on Sunday that the country lives in “an environment of excessive polarization, confrontation, strife.”
Pinera urged his successor, before the outcome is known, to never forget that “he will be the president of all Chileans, and not just those who support him”.
Boric will be inaugurated in March of next year.