A millennial who led anti-government protests has been elected Chile’s next president on Sunday after a bruising campaign against a free-market firebrand likened to Donald Trump.
With 56 percent of the votes, Gabriel Boric handily defeated by more than 10 points lawmaker José Antonio Kast, who tried unsuccessfully to scare voters that his young, inexperienced opponent would upend Chile’s vaunted record as Latin America’s most stable, advanced economy.
In a model of democratic civility that broke from the polarizing rhetoric of the campaign, Kast immediately conceded defeat, tweeting a photo of himself on the phone congratulating his opponent on his “grand triumph.” He then later travelled personally to Boric’s campaign headquarters to meet with his rival.
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.
Amid a crush of supporters, Boric crawled atop a metal barricade to reach the stage where he initiated in the indigenous Mapuche language a rousing victory speech to thousands of mostly young supporters.
The winner highlighted the progressive positions that launched his improbable campaign, including a promise to fight climate change by blocking a proposed mining project in Chile, which is the world’s largest copper producer.
“This is a historic day,” said Boris Soto, a teacher. “We’ve defeated not only fascism, and the right wing, but also fear.”
Boric’s victory is likely to be felt throughout Latin America, where ideological divisions have been on the rise amid the coronavirus pandemic, which sped up the reversal of a decade of economic gains, exposed longstanding deficiencies in health care and deepened inequality that is among the worst in the world.
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. Only one other head of state, Giacomo Simoncini of the city-state San Marino in Europe, is younger.
Boric 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 Pinochet 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-to-head runoff against Boric.