OPINION Presidential Elections

Why Chile’s president-elect is celebrated like a rockstar

Gabriel Boric will be Chile’s youngest president. His victory over far-right José Antonio Kast was decisive – and owed to a splendid communications and social media strategy. While success is by no means certain, so far most of the country and Boric seem to enjoy the honeymoon.

The country seems to be taken by surprise by Gabriel Boric, elected president over a week ago, leading his far-right opponent José Antonio Kast by almost 12 points. In those few days, Boric has become a rockstar, celebrated by audiences of different ages anywhere. Crowds gather outside the villa his alma mater, Universidad de Chile, provided him to support his pre-presidential work. Masses follow him on his travels, even asking for autographs and a photo, or at least a smile, when he received his Covid-19 booster shot. The 35-year-old Boric has turned his dog Brownie into a social media phenomenon.

Emotions Connect

But how did that emotional connection emerge within just one week? A first explanation is that for the more than four and a half million of his voters – he received most votes in Chile’s history – the night of Dec. 19 was some kind of relief. Because the truth is that Boric not only mobilized a million more new voters than in the first round but also enabled many to overcome the fear induced by the right, and the fear of a decisive turn that promised to roll back the social and cultural advances that were already won.

In the first round, Kast beat Boric, even though, among others, he proposed eliminating the Women’s Ministry, re-criminalize abortion (although the law is already highly restrictive) and abolish the divorce law. He wanted to remove Chile from various international organizations, ignoring ILO Convention 169 that protects indigenous rights, and he wanted to build a ditch to prevent the entry of immigrants. Not to envy Donald Trump or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who deems Boric a communist and refused to congratulate him.

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Something Else is Afoot

But the phenomenon I have observed in these last few days seems to be more profound. From what I saw, the country needed not only a generational change but also recover lost affections, closeness and emotionality, which Michelle Bachelet enabled and Sebastián Piñera could never achieve. Piñera remained deluded, believing voters loved and admired him like his predecessor.

From the emotional point of view, if Bachelet represented the loving and understanding mother and Piñera the successful but absent and cold father, Boric may symbolize the good-natured, close and complicit older brother. For the difficult times ahead, a more empathetic style of who will lead the second democratic transition and sign the new Constitution may make a difference.

Also, the communication design in the second round was very successful: it projected Boric as a simple, authentic young man, one among millions using social networks to share their lives. The campaign mixed humor, music, and dance with political content. It was a strategy that captured new young targets, and even the press. If something made a difference beyond ideology, it was this closeness. While Kast reinforced his anti-communist narrative – a desperate drive in the last week – Boric appeared to be doing the same things normal people do.

From a political angle, if the first week marked a change of climate, Boric also sent transcendental signs. From the outset, he signaled openness to expand his government and include actors, for example from the Socialist Party, that are not from his Apruebo Dignidad coalition.

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Out with the Old

On the other hand, José Antonio Kast offered “constructive collaboration” with the new government, in addition to pressuring yet another parliamentarian of his far-right Republican Party into resignation due to publicly promoting homophobic positions. We do not know if this is a genuine change or a move to win leadership of the future opposition, taking advantage of the crisis into which the right plunged after the defeat. But it doesn’t matter, the gesture is important. At the same time, the right has not only been adrift, but the mutual reproaches for either having supported Kast or not have been intensifying and increasingly divide the sector.

Meanwhile, Boric is already marking a complete turnaround in style with respect to Piñera. And it leads to results, so much that Piñera has once again tried to capitalize on Boric’s image by inviting him – clumsily via the media – to his last foreign trip, to Colombia in January. Boric saw through the charade and rejected the invitation, which brought him public support but criticism from the elite.

Of course, this time before assuming the presidency in March is the best period an elected leader can enjoy. Still, Boric’s style and wide support for him augur a good prognosis. We’ll see how things evolve, but for now, the country seems to be enjoying this anticipated romance with Boric the pop idol.

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