MS Risk Blog

Chile Elects Gabriel Boric as its New President

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On 19 December, Chile elected its youngest ever president, Gabriel Boric. It was a close contest between Boric and his far-right rival José Antonio Kast, who has been likened to Bolsonaro and openly admires Pinochet, but Boric was victorious with 56% of the vote. Turnout for the election was the highest since compulsory voting ended 9 years ago. Though the election rhetoric was extreme, it is likely that an attitude of cooperation with other parties will characterise Boric’s administration. His victory caps off the rise in support for Chile’s progressive left that has been gaining ground since the 2019 protests that left 30 people dead. It is a continuation of a region-wide trend to favour leftist candidates who aim to ease social inequality; a trend that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, Peru elected Pedro Castillo. In April, Colombians began demonstrating for several months against tax reform and police brutality. In November, Honduras voted in Xiomara Castro.

Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at Brazil’s Fundacao Getulio Vargas told Bloomberg that “Many point to a new ‘pink tide’ in Latin America after Boric’s victory […] But Chile’s president-elect has very little in common with Castillo in Peru and even less with Venezuela’s authoritarian regime. Boric is a progressive. Castillo and several other iconic left-wing leaders are social conservatives. That may allow Boric to become the face of Latin America’s new left, inspiring other candidates in the region.” There appears to be evidence of these progressive concerns within Gabriel Boric’s policies. He has proposed a green public investment program to target alternative energy and climate adaption, and is interested in improving social care provisions and in advancing feminist causes. Boric wrote in an open letter about the importance of “having a real social security system that doesn’t leave people behind, ending the hateful gap between healthcare for the rich and healthcare for the poor, advancing without hesitation in freedoms and rights for women.” He recognises LGBT rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. He had previously pledged to overhaul Chile’s “neoliberal” economic model but softened his stance on this in the weeks running up to the election in order to win over more centrist voters. This helped him on his way to victory, as he was more successful in winning over these voters who did not support either him or Kast. Supporting the re-write of Chile’s Pinochet-era constitution will also be a priority for Boric.

With the stark choice between left and right the election presented Chileans with, the collapse of centrist parties within the country, and the intense rhetoric that has characterised the campaign, there is concern that Chile’s society could become highly polarized and an environment of divisiveness could emerge. Yet, since Boric’s win, the atmosphere on both sides appears conciliatory and calm. Kast tweeted that he had called Boric to congratulate him on his “great triumph,” adding that “From today he is the elected President of Chile and deserves all our respect and constructive collaboration.” Outgoing President Sebastián Piñera said Chile was living in “an environment of excessive polarisation, confrontation [and] disputes,” and urged his successor to “be the president of all Chileans”.

It is likely that Gabriel Boric will continue with his strategy of pragmatism, looking to breach divides and find common ground on key issues like economic policy. For example, in the weeks leading up to the elections, Boric emphasized fiscal responsibility. He also supports the independence of the Central Bank. José Antonio Kast’s party still has a large presence in parliament and in the senate and so Boric will need to seek their cooperation in order to fulfil his programme. Looking at what Boric’s plans are for foreign policy, he has said he will “give priority to the Pacific Alliance in the future”. Yet, he stresses his immediate priorities are team building in Chile rather than international matters.Gabriel Boric will take office in March 2022, his term ending in 2026.