From the Cradle to the Grave: Chile’s Historic Presidential Election


Demos Negash, Contributor

After two rounds of voting, Gabriel Boric, a 35 year-old progressive legislator, was elected to be the next Chilean presidential. Boric, relatively young and inexperienced, ran on an agenda that contrasts starkly with those of his predecessors. Proposing a platform that would decrease economic inequality, strengthen environmental protections, and expand social programs, Boric has promised to dismantle the economic model that exacerbated Chilean inequality in recent years. 

A rejection of right-wing incumbents and neoliberalism has taken Latin America by storm. However, the most recent election of a populist leftist has occurred in an unusual place – from its “cradle.”

In 1970, Chile severed ties with the U.S. following the election of Salvador Allende. Allende, an unapologetic socialist, nationalized major industries and enacted income redistribution laws. This leftward shift in Chile halted after a U.S.-backed military coup d’état ousted Allende and ushered in the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet, forcefully ending civilian rule. 

Pinochet’s reign featured high economic growth but decimated the social safety net. Since Pinochet, Chile’s social fabric has been damaged. According to a report from the International Labour Office, higher level education and higher wages remain distant from a significant proportion of the Chilean population for several decades. Boric explicitly campaigned on changing from this model.

In front of thousands of supporters after his win, Boric stated, “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.” Boric’s abandonment of free-market policies stood in unmistakeable opposition to his opponent, Jose Antonio Kast. Kast, a 55 year-old lawmaker, has a record of attacking Chile’s LGBTQ community and staunchly defending the dictatorial regime of Pinochet. Kast employed divisive anti-communist rhetoric on the campaign trail, warning the electorate that a Boric victory would turn Chile into an unstable country. International observers have compared Kast’s politics and rhetoric to populist right-wing leaders such as Jair Bolsanaro of Brazil and former U.S. president Donald Trump. 

The election saw record-breaking levels of turnout as an additional 1.2 million voters casted their ballots in the runoff. Boric’s victory can largely be attributed to the large number of young voters and diverse coalitions that backed his campaign. Opinion polls showed Boric narrowly leading for a majority of the race; however, as almost all the ballots were counted, Boric won convincingly with around 56% of all votes cast. 

Chile is not the first Latin American country in recent years to revitalize the left. Pivotal presidential elections in Peru, Mexico, Honduras, and Bolivia already reestablished the left-wing into positions of power. However, Boric’s victory is not only a political one for his supporters, but also one with symbolic importance. Chile was the first country in Latin America to embrace neoliberalism in the 1970s. It is now the most recent one to reject it.

Image Credit: Image by “hugo fuentes” via Pexels