A new generation is entering politics. Is it a generation with clean hands, a warm heart and a cool head? Moderate socialist Gabriel Boric, who is set to become Chile’s youngest ever president, believes it is. Since his election on Dec 19, questions have been raised regarding Boric’s inexperience and youth. Are these concerns well-founded? The question is moot; for Boric’s political career first gained prominence ten years ago when he led nationwide demonstrations which called for free and high quality education.
Departing from his early days which focused on educational reform, Boric instead tapped into public anger at Chile’s market-oriented economic model which is widely considered to have helped drive decades of rapid economic growth at the price of inequality. This economic imbalance lit the fuse for the political rise of the progressive left as well as the redrafting of the country’s constitution.
Activists envision a new constitution that allows for the dismantling of the systems that privilege the few over the many by incorporating clauses that guarantee access to well-funded public services. The existing process for passing constitutional amendments requires a substantial congressional majority, which could complicate efforts for progressive change.
The three issues on Boric’s presidential agenda: higher taxes, greener industries and greater equality. He has pledged to decentralise Chile, implement a welfare state, increase public spending as well as increase representation of women, non-binary Chileans and Indigenous peoples. Boric has promised to address this inequality by expanding social rights and reforming Chile’s pension and healthcare systems by reducing the work week from 45 to 40 hours while boosting green investment.
Once the most stable economy in Latin America, Chile has one of the world’s largest income gaps, with 1% of the population owning 25% of the country’s wealth, according to the United Nations. This is considered to be the after effect of an investor-friendly economy which is believed to have left many behind.
Boric’s alliance with the communist party has been criticised by the opposition, who believe that such an alliance would dent Chile’s reputation, which has for years been famed for its economic growth. Boric, a moderate socialist who shuns the hard-left models, wants to dismantle the private pension fund, which forms the backbone of the local capital markets.
Boric’s triumphant and monumentous victory is only the start of the very many challenges that he will face during his presidency when he takes office in March. He will face unprecedented challenges that include: a divided congress, plunging economic growth, the writing of a new constitution as well as the lingering threat of social unrest.
In 2019, Chile underwent a period of social unrest which ballooned into a movement where citizens demanded better healthcare, public transport and pensions. The 2019 protests, known in Chile as the Estallido Social were a series of massive demonstrations and riots which originated in Santiago, the country’s capital. On 25 October 2019, over 1.2 million people took to the streets of Santiago to protest against social inequality in what has been dubbed as The Biggest March of Chile. The march is said to have began due to against a $0.04 metro fare hike before escalating into deeper concerns that had previously been bubbling underneath the surface.
Boric has said his generation wanted to have their rights respected and not be treated “like consumer goods or a business”. The new president said he would be “the president of all Chileans … and serve everyone” regardless of whether they voted for him.