March 11 marks the beginning of Gabriel Boric’s four-year term as Chilean president. The 36-year-old is not only the youngest president in the country’s history, he is also the one with the most votes ever. His goal is to move away from authoritarian politics and toward empowering the people. On top of that, he wants to tax the rich and corporations, provide more money for schools, the health care system, and higher wages and pensions. His “feminist government” consists of 14 women and 10 men and could be the last under the “Pinochet constitution” and the initial phase of a democratic transformation.
“I want to be a president who has less power at the end of his term in office than at the beginning,” stressed Gabriel Boric on the day of his election victory in December 2021. In this way, the 36-year-old president of Chile wants to distance himself from the authoritarian style of government of the right in his country and emphasize his democratic claims: He does not want to be a powerful president, but one who empowers the people. For this, Boric has received more votes than any other presidential candidate in Chile’s history.
Boric will be the youngest president in Chile’s history. He has managed to mobilize people in Chile who felt excluded from politics and had not voted in decades. In 2019, he was still demonstrating in the widespread protests against social inequality in Chile as a student. Now he is replacing multimillionaire Sebastián Piñera as Chile’s president. When he officially took office, he also emphasized symbols: He was not allowed to stay in his small flat in the city centre because of security concerns on the part of the authorities, and he did not want to go to the secluded villa neighbourhoods of his predecessors. Now the new presidential villa is located in a former factory district.
Boric’s 24-member government team consists of 10 men and 14 women. The foreign, defence and interior ministries will be headed by women – Maya Fernández, Salvador Allende’s granddaughter, will take over the defence ministry. At least six portfolios will be headed by party independents, including Sports Minister Alexandra Benado, who is a soccer player and recognized LGBTIQ activist. The Finance Minister is the former president of Chile’s Central Bank, Mario Marcel; his appointment is intended to “calm” the economy.
GABRIEL BORIC RAN AGAINST CHILEAN TRUMP
Boric’s opponent in the presidential elections was José Antonio Kast, a kind of Chilean Donald Trump. The right-wing populist defended the Pinochet dictatorship, wanted to cut taxes on wealth and corporate profits even further, and sell off the last remnants of public property (especially the copper mines, whose revenues currently contribute 11% to Chile’s public budget). To this end, Kast campaigned against homosexuals, against migrants, and questioned basic women’s rights, such as the possibility of abortion or social assistance for unmarried women.
Boric ran on a completely contrary program and won the run-off election with 56 percent of the vote and the most voters in the history of the country of 19 million:
“HE WANTS HIGHER TAXES FOR CORPORATIONS AND THE WEALTHY, TO REBUILD THE PUBLIC HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, AND TO REPLACE THE PRIVATE PENSION SYSTEM WITH PUBLIC PENSIONS. HE WANTS TO END THE CENTRAL BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE NEOLIBERAL PINOCHET DICTATORSHIP WITH A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PROJECT. HE ALSO WANTS TO STOP THE ENVIRONMENTALLY DAMAGING EXPANSION OF CONTROVERSIAL COPPER MILLS AND PROVIDE MORE MONEY FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES.”
Many people in Chile suffered under President Piñera’s neoliberal policies. They could no longer afford health care and education, which is privatized. Half of the people in the country earn less than 500 euros per month, although food prices in supermarkets are similar to those in Europe.
In recent years, there have been huge social protests, of which Boric has been a part. Boric currently does not have a majority in the National Congress for his program. President Boric’s electoral alliance (Apruebo Dignidad) represents only 23.8 % of the deputies in Congress. Parliamentary cooperation is possible with the left-of-center electoral alliance Nuevo Pacto Social, with Dignidad Ahora and the Partido Ecologista Verde. This would give the government an absolute majority in the lower house, although this is somewhat fragile. Boric’s alliance is weaker in the Senate. It has only five seats and, together with Nuevo Pacto Social, does not have an absolute majority. In the Senate, the right-wing conservative camp controls 50 percent of the seats.
How much of Boric’s government can push through its list of demands will depend heavily on public pressure on the deputies.
“WE TALK TO THE POPULATION, TO THE SOCIAL MOVEMENTS FROM WHICH WE COME. POLITICS IS NOT ONLY MADE IN CONGRESS,” CAMILA VALLEJO, WHO WAS AN IMPORTANT FIGURE IN THE STUDENT PROTESTS OF 2011 AND IS NOW A GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON, EMPHASIZES TO TIME.”
“FASCISM DEFEATED”: NEW CONSTITUTION TO REPLACE PINOCHET CONSTITUTION.
In any case, Boric’s victory was hailed in Chile as a final victory over Pinochetismo. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans spontaneously celebrated the election results in the streets, shouting, “We have defeated fascism.” This was because Kast, the opposing candidate, defended the Pinochet dictatorship and downplayed the human rights violations committed during the dictatorship during the election campaign. He also spoke out against the new constitution for Chile, which is supposed to finally replace the Pinochet constitution.
After huge protests erupted in Chile in 2019 against the social situation in the country, 80 percent of the population voted in favour of drafting a new constitution. The new constitution is drafted by a democratically elected assembly for the first time in Chile’s history. Despite initial fears among the more radical parts of the protest movement that conservatives would control the convention, the political left celebrated success in the election of the convention – the right suffered a defeat. In May 2021, the Constitutional Convention began drafting a new constitution. Since the Convention includes representatives of the 2019 social protest movement, Kast called it an “anti-social uprising.”
Boric – in stark contrast to Kast – stands for finally ending the legacy of neoliberal dictator Augusto Pinochet, according to the Guardian. Boric also supports the process for a new Chilean constitution. “If it is approved by the people in 2022, the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship will finally be buried,” writes Sophia Boddenberg in the taz.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS EMERGE VICTORIOUS IN LATIN AND SOUTH AMERICAN ELECTIONS
Chile is not the only country where left-wing and social democratic candidates have recently won elections. In Peru, the leftist Pedro Castillo won against a right-wing populist in the summer. In Bolivia, Lula confidant Luis Arce won, and in Honduras, left-wing opposition candidate Xiomara Castro won. The governments of Argentina and Mexico are also largely classified as social democratic. Brazil’s right-wing populist President Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is under pressure, and a re-election of his left-wing challenger Lula da Silva is considered likely.