There are many reasons why the overwhelming victory of Gabriel Boric, a millennial left-wing congressman, in the presidential election in Chile will echo well beyond the borders of this Andean nation.
In times of the alarming rise in authoritarianism around the world, it is cause for joy that Chilean voters have rejected not only Boric’s opponent, the ultra-conservative faux-populist José Antonio Kast – an admirer of the country’s former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. but also Kast’s anti-immigrant, traditionalist, anti-abortion, law-and-order message of fear and intolerance.
Equally significant on a global level, my compatriots in Boric have elected a leader who will be the youngest president in Chilean history at 35, someone who embodies the emergence of a new generation on our troubled planet. The causes he believes in are those young people for whom there is increasing struggle all over the world: gender equality, the empowerment of women and indigenous peoples, an end to police brutality and neoliberal economic policy, a deepening of democracy and civil rights and above all, urgent action against climate change.
But like militants elsewhere, Boric is facing massive obstacles to push through the crucial changes that are necessary in the case of Chile to ensure justice and dignity for the country’s neglected majority. Despite the huge lead of Boric’s win with 56 percent of the vote and the highest total number in the country’s history, the path will not be easy. After all, 44 percent of voters voted for someone as backward as Kast, who, like autocrats in other nations (Trump, anyone?), Has sidelined and devoured the potentially liberal elements of traditional right-wing parties. And major reforms have to be negotiated in a congress in which the radical coalition that supports the new president – along with allies of the center-left – barely has a functioning majority.
Boric is also facing a country ravaged by the pandemic and simmering economic crisis – with entrenched economic and social actors unwilling to forego their privileges, more than willing to attempt to redistribute power and income to sabotage. At the same time, under pressure from his radical base to move faster, Boric must cope with demands from moderate allies necessary for an extremely bold agenda of structural change. There are already dire signs from members of the Chilean financial and industrial elite – and from many Milquetoast experts – that the future president should curtail his ambitious goals.
Still, I remain cautiously optimistic.