Gabriel Boric, a former student activist, elected Chile's youngest president

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chileans elected Gabriel Boric as their next president on Sunday, entrusting the young left-wing lawmaker to help shap...

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chileans elected Gabriel Boric as their next president on Sunday, entrusting the young left-wing lawmaker to help shape the future of a nation that has been rocked by the protests and is now drafting a new constitution.

At 35, Boric will be the country’s youngest leader and by far the most liberal since President Salvador Allende, who committed suicide in the 1973 military coup that ushered in a brutal 17-year dictatorship.

He will take office as the last stage of a multi-year initiative to draft a new constitution, an effort that could lead to profound legal and policy changes on issues such as gender equality, Indigenous rights and the protection of the environment.

Capitalizing on widespread discontent with the political factions that have swapped power over the past decades, Mr Boric has drawn voters by pledging to reduce inequality and pledging to raise taxes for the rich to fund substantial expansion. social safety net, more generous pensions and a greener economy.

The president-elect defeated José Antonio Kast, a former far-right lawmaker who sought to portray Mr Boric as a radical communist who would destroy one of the region’s strongest economies. Mr. Boric’s coalition includes the Communist Party.

Mr Kast conceded the race, saying he called Mr Boric to congratulate him.

“Now he is the elected president of Chile and deserves our respect and our constructive collaboration,” said Mr. Kast. wrote on Twitter.

With over 98% of the ballots counted, Mr. Boric won over 55% of the vote and Mr. Kast 44%. The margin surprised political observers as recent polls suggested the race was tighter.

“I will give my best to meet this formidable challenge,” Boric said during a televised video call from outgoing President Sebastián Piñera, who continues a tradition in Chilean politics.

Mr Boric also said he hopes to unite the nation after a fierce race. “I will be the president of all Chileans.”

Mr Piñera said he was happy that “democracy is working and that you are part of it”.

Jubilant Boric supporters took to the streets on Sunday evening in several Chilean cities. Many waved the national flag and chanted campaign slogans as champagne bottles circulated.

Speaking to supporters from a stage in a crowded square in Santiago late on Sunday evening, Boric said he intended to unite the nation and implement structural changes to make Chile more equal. “Today, hope has taken precedence over fear,” he said.

The race was the most polarizing and acrimonious in recent history, presenting Chileans with radically different visions on issues such as the role of the state in the economy, the rights of historically marginalized groups, and public safety.

And the stakes were higher than in other presidential competitions: the new president is set to deeply shape the effort to replace the Constitution of Chile, imposed in 1980 when the country was under military rule. Chileans voted overwhelmingly last year to write a new one.

Mr Boric, leader of the left-wing coalition Frente Amplio, has been a strong supporter of the push to update the charter, which was sparked by a wave of protests in late 2019 against inequalities, the cost of living and the Chile’s free market economy. .

On the other hand, Mr. Kast campaigned vigorously against establishing a constitutional convention, which Chilean members elected in May. The organization is drafting a new charter that voters will approve or reject in a direct vote next September.

Convention members saw Mr. Kast’s rise as an existential threat to their work, fearing that he could mobilize the resources and the intimidating chair of the presidency to persuade voters to reject a revised constitution.

“There is so much at stake,” said Patricia Politzer, a member of the Santiago convention. “The president has enormous power and he could use the full support of the state to campaign against the new constitution. “

Mr Kast and Mr Boric clashed fiercely in the final days of the race, each portraying the prospect of their loss as catastrophic for the South American nation of 19 million.

Mr. Boric called his rival a fascist and attacked several of his plans, which included expanding the prison system and empowering security forces to more forcefully crack down on indigenous challenges to land rights in the south of the country.

Mr Kast told voters a Boric presidency would destroy the foundations of the Chilean economy and likely put the nation on the path to becoming a failed state like Venezuela.

“It was a campaign dominated by fear, to a degree that we have never seen before,” said Claudia Heiss, professor of political science at the University of Chile. “It can do long-term damage because it deteriorates the political climate.”

Mr. Boric and Mr. Kast each found ground with voters who were fed up with the center-left and center-right political factions that have swapped power in Chile over the past decades. Outgoing curator Mr Piñera has seen his approval ratings drop below 20 percent in the past two years.

Mr. Boric made his political debut as a leading organizer of major student protests in 2011 that persuaded the government to provide free education to low-income students. He was first elected to Congress in 2014.

Hailing from Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost province, Boric has vowed to take bold action to curb global warming, including a politically risky proposal to increase fuel taxes.

Mr Boric, who has tattoos and doesn’t like wearing a tie, is breaking the mold of traditional presidential candidates. He has also spoken publicly about his diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition for which he was briefly hospitalized in 2018.

Following the sometimes violent street protests and political unrest sparked by an increase in metro fares in October 2019, he vowed to turn a litany of grievances that had accumulated over generations into an overhaul of public policies. Mr Boric said it was necessary to raise taxes on corporations and the ultrarich to widen the social safety net and create a more equal society.

“Today, many older people work to the death after grueling work all their lives,” he said during the race’s final debate, promising to create a more generous pension system. “It is unfair.”

Mr. Kast, the son of German immigrants, served as federal lawmaker from 2002 to 2018. A father of nine, he strongly opposed abortion and same-sex marriage. His national profile rose during the 2017 presidential race, when he won nearly 8% of the vote.

Mr Kast called the spending expansion proposed by his rival reckless, saying Chile needs a leaner and more efficient state. He also warned that Mr. Boric’s election would escalate unrest and fuel violence.

Mr. Kast cited the “poverty that drove Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba” as a warning. “People are running away from there because the dictatorship, the narco-dictatorship, only brings poverty and misery,” he said.

Antonia Vera, a recent high school graduate who campaigned for Mr Boric, said she saw his election as the only way to turn a grassroots movement for a more just and prosperous nation into reality.

“When he talks about hope he is talking about the long term future, a movement that started to germinate many years ago and exploded in 2019,” she said.

But the new president will find it difficult to make radical changes, said Claudio Fuentes, professor of political science at Diego Portales de Santiago University, noting the new congress divided evenly.

“This is a scenario in which it will be difficult to push through the reforms,” ​​he said.

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago, and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gabriel Boric, a former student activist, elected Chile's youngest president
Gabriel Boric, a former student activist, elected Chile's youngest president
Newsrust - US Top News
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