Former left-wing protest leader elected president of Chile in bitter runoff

SANTIAGO, Chile – A left-wing millennial who rose to prominence in anti-government protests was elected President of Chile next Sunday after a deadly campaign against a free-market brand compared to Donald Trump.

With more than 90% of the polling stations declaring, Gabriel Boric obtained 56% of the votes, against 44% for his opponent, the legislator José Antonio Kast.

Kast tweeted a photo of himself on the phone with his opponent congratulating him on his “great triumph” as Boric supporters gathered in downtown Santiago to celebrate. Outgoing president Sebastian Pinera held a video conference with Boric to congratulate him.

“I’m going to be the president of all Chileans,” Boric said during the brief television appearance with Pinera.

Boric, 35, will become Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March. He was one of several activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for better education. On the stump, he swore to “bury” the neoliberal economic model left by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet of 1973-1990 and to increase the taxes of the “super rich” to extend social services, fight against inequalities and strengthen environmental protection.

Kast, who has always defended Chile’s former military dictatorship, edged Boric by two points in the first round of voting last month but failed to secure a majority of the vote. This set up a head-to-head against Boric.

Boric was able to reverse the difference by a larger margin than even predicted pre-election opinion polls by expanding beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracting voters to rural areas that do not exist. do not side with political extremes. For example, in the northern region of Antofagasta, where he finished third in the first round, he beat Kast by almost 20 points.

Kast, 55, a devout Roman Catholic and father of nine, emerged from the far-right fringe after winning less than 8% of the vote in 2017. He rose steadily in the polls this time with a divisive speech highlighting emphasizing conservative family values ​​and playing on Chilean fears that increased migration – from Haiti and Venezuela – could lead to crime.

A longtime lawmaker, he’s used to attacking Chile’s LGBTQ community and advocating for more restrictive abortion laws. He also accused outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, a conservative colleague, of betraying the economic legacy of General Augusto Pinochet, the country’s former military leader. Kast’s brother, Miguel, was one of Pinochet’s best advisers.

In recent days, the two candidates have tried to turn towards the center.

“I am not an extremist. … I don’t feel quite right, ”Kast proclaimed in the home stretch even as he was chased by revelations that his German-born father had been a full member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party. .

Boric, who is backed by a coalition of left parties that includes the Chilean Communist Party, has brought in more centrist advisers to his team and has promised any changes will be gradual and fiscally responsible.

“People on both sides vote out of fear,” said Robert Funk, a political scientist at the University of Chile, before the vote count. Neither side is particularly excited about his candidate, but they vote for fear that if Kast wins there will be an authoritarian regression or because they fear Boric is too young, inexperienced and aligned with the Communists. “

Boric’s victory will likely be tempered by a divided congress.

Additionally, political rules may soon change as a newly elected convention rewrites the country’s constitution during Pinochet’s day. The convention – the most powerful elected institution in the country – could in theory call new presidential elections when it completes its work next year and if the new charter is ratified in a plebiscite.

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