SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A leftist millennial who rose to prominence during anti-government protests was elected Chile’s next president Sunday after a bruising campaign against a free-market firebrand likened to Donald Trump.
With more than 90% of polling stations reporting, Gabriel Boric had 56% of the votes, compared to 44% for his opponent, lawmaker José Antonio Kast.
Kast tweeted a photo of himself on the phone with his opponent congratulating him on his “grand triumph” as supporters of Boric gathered in downtown Santiago to celebrate. Sebastian Pinera, the outgoing president, held a conference call to Boric in order to felicitate him.
“I am going to be the president of all Chileans,” Boric said in the brief televised appearance with Pinera.
Boric, 35, will become Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March. In 2014, Boric was elected as one of many activists to Congress after leading demonstrations in favor of higher education. On the stump, he vowed to “bury” the neoliberal economic model left by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship and raise taxes on the “super rich” to expand social services, fight inequality and boost protections of the environment.
Kast, who has a history of defending Chile’s past military dictatorship, finished ahead of Boric by two points inThe first round of voting was held last month, but the majority did not vote. This set the stage for a head to head runoff against Boric.
Boric was able to reverse the difference by a larger margin than even pre-election opinion polls forecast by expanding beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracting voters in rural areas who don’t side with political extremes. Boric won the Antofagasta region by nearly 20 points over Kast. He finished in third place in the initial round.
Kast (55), a Roman Catholic, devout Catholic, and father to nine children, came from the fringe of far-right after he won less than 8.8% of the vote. He rose steadily in the polls this time with a divisive discourse emphasizing conservative family values and playing on Chileans’ fears that a surge in migration — from Haiti and Venezuela — is driving crime.
He is a long-standing lawmaker with a track record of attacking Chile’s LGBTQ communityHe advocated more restrictive abortion laws. He also accused outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, a fellow conservative, of betraying the economic legacy of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the country’s former military leader. Kast’s brother, Miguel, was one of Pinochet’s top advisers.
Recent days saw both the candidates try to move toward the center.
“I’m not an extremist. … I don’t feel far right,” Kast proclaimed in the final stretch even as he was dogged by revelations that his German-born father had been a card-carrying member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
Boric, who is backed by a coalition of leftist parties that includes Chile’s Communist Party, brought more centrist advisers onto his team and promised that any changes would be gradual and fiscally responsible.
“On both sides, people are voting out of fear,” Robert Funk, a political scientist at the University of Chile, said before the vote count. “Neither side is particularly enthused with their candidate but they are voting out of fear that, if Kast wins, there will an authoritarian regression or because they fear Boric is too young, inexperienced and aligned with the communists.”
Boric’s victory likely to be tempered by a divided congress.
In addition, the political rules could soon change because a newly elected convention is rewriting the country’s Pinochet-era constitution. The convention — the nation’s most powerful elected institution — could in theory call for new presidential elections when it concludes its work next year and if the new charter is ratified in a plebiscite.