Former student protest leader, Gabriel Boric, won Chile’s presidential election on Sunday night, after a tense campaign race between far-Right opponent Jose Antonio Kast.
Mr Boric won 55.86 per cent of votes, giving him a comfortable lead over his opponent. A former student leader, Mr Boric seeks to overhaul Chile’s privatised economic system in an attempt to amplify social security.
“I will give the best I have to rise to this great challenge,” he said during a call with the incumbent president, billionaire businessman Sebastian Piñera. “I hope we can [govern] better.”
Mr Boric’s program largely responds to the demands of mass protests which broke out in the country in 2019, when millions marched against inequality and rising costs of living.
More than thirty citizens were killed in violent clashes with the police, and thousands were injured as protesters stretched on for months.
The movement paved the way for a new constitution, which was backed by Mr Boric.
In May, members from his left-wing coalition party Approval Dignity won a significant number of seats in the constitutional assembly, reflecting Chileans’ demands for social progress.
“Most of Chilean society is ready and open for a change to a more social-democratic government,” said Miguel Ángel López, a professor at the University of Chile’s Institute of Public Affairs, who said a Kast government would have been an “involution”.
“Kast represents a right-wing idea that was popular in Chile thirty years ago” added Mr López, who said that a Boric government presents a “less complex scenario”.
Bearded and tattooed, 35-year-old Mr Boric is Chile’s youngest president. He is marked change from his predecessors; 72-year-old Piñera is serving his second term with the conservative coalition, Let’s Go Chile.
Mr Boric rose to prominence as a student protest leader in 2011, under Piñera’s first government, rallying thousands of students through Santiago’s streets to demand fair access to education.
Mr Kast, who envisioned a Chile rooted in Catholic family values, won by 2 per cent more votes in the first-round election runoff in November, but Mr. Boric was able to pull support from moderate voters in an unprecedented turnaround.
In Chile’s 30-year democratic history, every candidate who came first in November’s election round went on to win the presidency, but moderate and undecided voters were cautious by Mr Kast’s ultra-conservative principles.
However, Kast supporters fear Mr Boric could usher in a period of economic instability.
“Boric represents the communist party—which has had devastating results in South America,” said Enrico Tondini, a mining engineer living in Coquimbo, northern Chile, who fears a future akin to Venezuela. Anticipating a lower quality of life under Mr Boric’s government, he is considering leaving the country with his family.
For younger Chileans, today’s result is a moment to celebrate.
“With Kast, we would have lost so many rights that it took us to long achieve,” said a 16-year old, Sofía Céspedes, listing environmental laws and marriage equality as an example. She is with her mother at Mr Boric’s celebration base waiting for the new president to address the crowd.
Ms Cespedes marched every Friday during the social uprising with her schoolmates.
“Boric is a great step forward, he cares about the environment and has always sided with the demands of students.”