The president-elect has not yet an elitist pedigree like all his predecessors. Gabriel Boric’s election victory is a sign of a rupture with the past. His opponent, José Antonio Kast, meanwhile, need not despair either since he’s practically the only viable right-wing leader now.
Gabriel Boric’s triumph in the Chilean runoff comes loaded with symbolic achievements. First, he becomes the youngest president in history – he will assume office at the age of 36 – and the second youngest in the world. Second, he was elected with the highest vote a president has ever obtained in Chile, surpassing even Michelle Bachelet’s first mandate and Sebastián Piñera’s second.
Third, Boric attracted voters who had not voted in the first round, and he managed to connect emotionally. Bachelet achieved something similar previously, contrasting with the coldness and pragmatism of her predecessor.
Boric’s emotional bond was on display on election day when a lack of public transport made it difficult for thousands to reach their polling places. While the government denied any problems existed, TV channels reported on the annoyance and impotence of anxiously waiting voters.
The government’s inability to acknowledge a problem resembled its reaction on Oct. 18, 2019, when the social outbreak began, and officials denied the obvious.
Fourth, the president-elect addressed a diverse crowd, especially families and young people, just three hours after the last polling station closed. Streets across the country were overflowing and flags were waved in enthusiasm and joy – which seemed to have been lost during the last two years – just like in October 1988, when the NO option won in the plebiscite and marked the beginning of the dictatorship’s end.
In his victory speech, Boric rightly pointed out that “hope won over fear.” And it is true, Chileans, in the second round, were able to connect with the pending social demands, with the hopes of change and with a more emotional narrative.
But mainly they overcame an environment of uncertainty that far-right José Antonio Kast had capitalized on well, concentrating fears about public insecurity, La Araucanía, and migration. Kast’s coalition in the runoff could also not control these problems, to which added the violence of a few, which diverted attention from demands expressed in the social uprising.
Undoubtedly, the increasing polarization during the previous months motivated voters. And of course, Kast contributed to building the logic of the plebiscite of 1988. As a deja vu, Kast once again followed a script the right has used recurrently: fear. He told a story that sought to generate uncertainty and associate the social movement and demands – and the rewrite of the Constitution – with the violence of a few.
And part of the truth is that sectors of the current opposition contributed to this fear campaign. They should make a mea culpa because they belatedly condemned vandalism and contributed to getting citizens associate some parties with violence.
Kast used all the tools, even foul play. Will the right ever mature and understand that frightening the population, like in the 1988, has never worked out?
Although Kast ventured toward the center during the runoff, his most radical positions, such as building a ditch to detain migrants or abolishing the divorce and abortion law, but also his associates, remained aggressive. This even forced Kast to abandon Johannes Kaiser, lawmaker-elect for Kast’s Republican Party, because Kaiser doubted the female right to vote and disparaged rape victims.
Individually, however, Kast must know that he won despite defeat. Surely, the former right-wing coalition that supported him is developing a distancing strategy, but Kast is also already working on his 2026 run, this time knowing that he is the only right-wing leader able to compete in the primaries.
Boric, on the other hand, ran a spectacular campaign. He prioritized public security, won the former president of the Medical College, Izkia Siches, as campaign leader – who turned out to be key in the election victory – and began talking in more humble, statesman-like terms. But he kept the ability to connect emotionally.
Undoubtedly, Boric represents a generational change, which will start a new political cycle in which we will see a reordering of the Chilean political chessboard. Boric said on election night that the people entered government palace La Moneda with him and that it will be an open government marked by dialogue with citizens.
But he also invited everyone, including his contenders, to add ideas and work in unity. A signal that hopefully will be well received. Kast already rose to the occasion.
And the Third Player?
Franco Parisi, leader of the People’s Party, turned out the biggest loser. Parisi lives in Alabama and has not been in Chile for two years. He also owes a vast amount in alimony.
He gained third place in the first round with 13% but couldn’t play that hand in the second. Less than 24 hours before the election, he unequivocally backed Kast.
With the announcement, he destroyed his party’s centrist and independent image. Moreover, Boric won by large margin in the region Parisi previously won. Parisi’s pre-election shenanigans were undoubtedly a failed bet, fully in line with his character.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.