Red hot Chile peppers: Boric Blazes into La Moneda

  • The 35-year-old leftist will be the youngest Chilean President in history.
  • Increased polarisation and discontent explains Boric’s blazing rise to power. 
  • The new leader presents the potential for progressive, equality driven change in the region.
Gabriel Boric
Source: BBC

Why is Boric’s heat level Blazing?

Answer: His election  marks a significant victory for the left in Chile as well as in Latin America as a whole.

In the first election since the protests of October 2019, Gabriel Boric of the Social Convergence party has emerged victorious. Boric, who had fallen behind his conservative counterpart José Antonio Kast in the first round of elections, clinched the victory with 55.8% of the vote in what many have called the most divisive elections in Chilean history. 

Boric is an unorthodox presidential candidate, and not only because of his age. The new President-elect has a history steeped in grass-roots politics and collective action. From his role as a leader in the 2011 student protests, to becoming the President of the Student Federation in 2014 and then in 2019 acting as a negotiator for Chile’s referendum on changing the Constitution, Boric is the embodiment of the progressive left in Chile. The President-elect represents for many Chileans, a departure from neoliberalism and the legacies of the Pinochet regime. 

The 11-point victory is a huge victory for Boric and the broad leftist coalition he represents, especially as the opposing candidate offered a vastly different reality. José Antonio Kast of the Chilean Republican Party, is a staunch believer in Chile’s neoliberal economic model and conservative social values. As a far-right conservative, Kast has been compared to Brazil’s Bolsonaro and at times, Pinochet himself. Such a blazing result is a pivotal ideological win for the left, especially in the country’s most polarised election in Chile for decades. 

However, while Boric’s heat level is blazing for the moment, he will assume in March a very difficult presidency, requiring cooperation from all corners of the government if he wishes to maintain this temperature. The President-elect is aware of this and has already called for open dialogue between all sectors of the political system.

Who is changing Boric’s heat level?

Answer:  A radicalising Chilean electorate and disillusionment with inequality.

While the power of the people is at the heart of any election result, there is also a more pragmatic component to be considered: voluntary voting. In 2012, Chile abolished its fine for abstention and voting became a voluntary process. Since then, voter turnout has been significantly lower and more polarised; these recent elections being the first time since 1990 that Chileans have not voted for a centre party. This shift in the political landscape towards a more radicalised electorate has played a significant role in Boric’s rise to the presidency. 

That being said, Boric’s victory is in many ways the institutionalisation of Chilean discontent for the status quo, with public anger rising significantly in the last few years. The primary cause for this discontent can be traced to expired economic policy in the region. For many years Chile was seen as a poster child for free-market economic development. Economists were quick to use the term ‘miracle of Chile’, urging other nations to adopt a similar model. While this approach did bring rapid growth and reduce poverty, it brought with it massive wealth inequality and a higher cost of living. 

The disillusionment for these outdated models peaked in 2019, when Chile declared a state of emergency due to escalating protests. The student-led demonstrations had started as a response to rising transport fares and devolved into a general protest to inequality, the cost of living, and marginalising guarantees that favoured private sectors over public services.

Boric’s position at the time, negotiating the terms of a plebiscite to rewrite the Constitution, as well as his heavy involvement in student-led protest and activism, afforded him the perfect posture to represent this discontent in what many hope is a new era of Chilean politics. 

What is driving Boric?

Answer: A broad agenda to rejuvenate the Chilean political system. 

At the heart of the President-elect’s motivation is a political transformation in Chile. He is driven by the desire to create a new egalitarian system that caters to ‘all Chileans’ and buries the legacy of the past. 

In order to achieve this, Boric is attempting to define the need for dialogue between political sectors as a national duty. This is no doubt an attempt to appeal to his opposition and Congress, where his coalition does not hold a majority. In both the upper and lower houses, the majority is held by Chile Vamos, a centre and centre-right coalition that will undoubtedly make life difficult for the new administration. Presidential powers are strong in Chile, and  Boric will have some individual influence, but will still need strong alliances to ensure success. Overall, the leader has an ambitious and broad agenda, which will need some fine-tuning to fulfil his goal of creating progressive, lasting reform. 

At the top of Boric’s agenda will be his economic policy, primarily with regards to tax and pension reform. The President-elect intends to raise contributions of the super-wealthy and corporate tax while establishing a royalty for mining companies so as to decrease value-added tax (IVA). Equally, pension policy was a significant part of Boric’s election campaign and will be a priority when he assumes office.. Boric wishes to reform the current AFP (Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones) system and has also alluded to the gradual creation of a basic universal pension. 

On top of economic policy, the President-elect also has a comprehensive list of goals for the socio-cultural landscape and climate policy of the country. Including but not limited to human rights, gender and LGBTQ progress, the indigenous community and healthcare. Boric’s young age and promise of progressivism resonates with a tangible sector of voters that the leader has identified as neglected. While the President-elect has promised an inclusive outlook to his leadership, he will certainly be targeting younger Chileans that were instrumental in his election. This, along with his inner circle made up primarily of young allies who also have a history in political activism, will be crucial in maintaining the approval of this neglected demographic.

With no shortage of ambition, Gabriel Boric is driven by the desire to ‘right certain wrongs’ and completely reform Chilean society. Time will only tell whether he can get these changes through Congress and deliver on his promise of transformation.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: This victory could mean progress for the left in Latin America, but it all hinges on successful policy implementation.

In a broad sense, the radicalisation of one of Latin America’s most historically moderate democracies is potentially of huge significance for the left. However, if Boric is to truly bury the legacies of his predecessors, there are several obstacles he must first surmount. 

A somewhat predictable consequence of Boric’s election is the response in terms of foreign investment. As economic policy reform is at the heart of his agenda, it is unsurprising that the Chilean stock market and currency took a significant downturn immediately after the results. Boric has already sought to reassure investors, but has also declared that Chile’s democratic decisions should not be undermined by external pressures. 

Equally, the international posture that Chile’s new administration will assume is somewhat unclear. Boric himself has criticised the Maduro regime as well as Nicaragua and Cuba, citing their human rights abuses. Equally, Boric’s campaign has articulated a desire for cooperation both within South America and with other powers such as the US and China, whilst maintaining political autonomy. While he has announced the ‘continuation’ of foreign policy, the region seems increasingly accommodating to progressive left-wing governments,  meaning an increased platform for multilateral integration. Two pivotal elections in Latin America, those of Colombia in May and Brazil in October, could see further progression of the left on the continent and will prove interesting in Chile’s future international relations. 

The President-elect will have to sustain the support of his coalition, maintain positive international relations as well as those with the entrepreneurial class, govern without the support of Congress, oversee the drafting of a new Constitution and navigate the predicted economic downturn for 2022-2023. Needless to say, Boric will inherit a plethora of issues that will truly test the effectiveness of his leadership with the potential to either prove or disprove the viability of his style of government in the wider region. 

If the 2021 election proves anything, it is that Chileans are desperately seeking a replacement to marginalising and antiquated policy that has not represented the varying demographics of the country. The proof that Gabriel Boric will be the face of an unprecedented period of social and political transformation in Chile is still yet to be seen, but for now, many are looking at Chile in the hopes of a second miracle.