a congressman and former student protest leader, was elected president Sunday, auguring a shift far to the left in a nation that has long been a stalwart of centrist, market-friendly policies in Latin America.
Mr. Boric received 56% of the votes, defeating conservative rival
José Antonio Kast,
who conceded and congratulated the president-elect on Twitter.
Mr. Boric will take office in March.
Mr. Boric’s supporters celebrated in the streets of Santiago, as the president-elect waded through crowds of people and hopped a fence to reach a stage to give his victory speech. He told supporters his government will reduce inequality while protecting economic activity. He promised to dismantle a private pension system and improve public healthcare and education.
“We are going to create a more just society for everyone,” he said. “The future of our country is in play in the coming years.”
His election was assured by the strong support of young, urban voters seeking greater public spending despite the most polarizing campaign in a generation. At 35 years old, the tattooed lawmaker will become Chile’s youngest leader in modern times after meeting the minimum age to run for the presidency this year.
Mr. Boric’s victory is expected to stoke investor concerns in the world’s biggest copper producer, even though he moderated proposals calling for a preponderant state role in the economy, analysts say. The peso has depreciated more than 16% this year, as some Chileans sent their money abroad for safekeeping.
“I don’t think the markets, particularly locals, are going to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said
an economist at JPMorgan Chase. “During the transition period, he will be forced to take actions to show that [he’s] going to moderate.”
Mr. Boric’s election marks the end of three decades of centrist rule that made this country of 19 million a global model for free trade and a magnet for foreign investments in Latin America. The country had slashed poverty following the end of
Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s
Support for the traditional center-left and center-right parties that governed since the return to democracy in 1990 collapsed following protests in 2019 amid anger over the high cost of living and demands for better public services.
Mr. Boric’s ascent to La Moneda presidential palace comes a decade after he gained national prominence as the shaggy-haired leader of protests that paralyzed Santiago in 2011. Thousands of students demanding tuition-free universities had blocked streets with burning barricades.
Mr. Boric, pronounced BO-rich, represents what analysts say is a new generation of leftists in Latin America. In addition to promising a greater welfare state, politicians such as Mr. Boric pledge to fight climate change while expanding rights to native peoples and gay and transgender people. Mr. Boric, who has publicly said he has obsessive compulsive disorder, has also called for more support for people with mental health problems.
“His program is a very 21st century vision of the left. It’s not the traditional left,” said Jennifer Pribble, a political scientist and Latin America expert at the University of Richmond. “He personifies a challenge to the older hierarchy.”
A descendant of Croatian immigrants, Mr. Boric grew up in Punta Arenas, a small city in Chile’s southern Patagonia region. His father, an oil company engineer, was a member of the center-left Christian Democratic party. The younger Mr. Boric moved to Santiago to study law at the University of Chile, a degree he didn’t complete.
In 2013, at age 27, he was elected to Congress, leading a younger generation of leftist politicians and social activists who were sharply critical of their center-left predecessors, including former Chilean presidents. He accused them of selling out by applying neoliberal policies that saddled Chile’s middle class with debt and poor pensions.
“If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” Mr. Boric said earlier this year. “Don’t be afraid of the youth who want to change Chile.”
He has also called for raising the minimum wage and creating a state-owned lithium company.
But he has also recently taken a more conciliatory tone, as he sought to attract centrist voters who want to maintain the market economy but improve public services. His victory comes as Chile emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed nearly 40,000 in this country of 19 million.
“Count on me to unite Chile, not divide it,” he said. “In my government nobody is going to risk what we’ve achieved.”
Mr. Boric will become the most left-wing leader since President Salvador Allende, a Marxist. His 1970 election and subsequent nationalizations of key industries and land expropriations turned Chile into a Cold War battleground that led to Gen. Pinochet seizing power in a coup. Chileans have been split ever since, with many conservatives fearing a return to power of the far-left.
a 58-year-old in Santiago, remembers the long lines to buy chicken and laundry detergent under the Allende government. She fears the role Mr. Boric’s communist allies would play in government and voted for Mr. Kast.
Mr. Boric has long stoked controversy. On his first day as a lawmaker, he caused an uproar when he showed up without a tie and suit jacket, calling political decorum a “tool of the elite” that separates lawmakers from the people.
He came under fire for a 2018 trip to Paris where he met with a left-wing militant who in 1991 assassinated conservative Sen. Jaime Guzmán, the architect of the current constitution. Mr. Boric later apologized for the meeting.
Today, some analysts say Mr. Boric is closer to a social democrat who has shown an openness to negotiate with political opponents.
In 2019, he broke with his leftist allies and backed a political accord with center-right President
to begin a process to replace the dictatorship-era constitution in order to restore calm. Violent protesters had torched subway stations and thousands of small businesses, leaving about 30 people dead. A leftist assembly was elected this year to write a new charter.
After once cheering on Venezuela’s socialist regime to “deepen the Bolivarian revolution,” he has more recently criticized what many in Latin America consider a dictatorship in that country. In November, he distanced himself from his communist allies when they offered glowing praise for what the U.S. called a sham reelection won by Nicaragua’s authoritarian strongman, President
“Boric is very prone to dogma but also very capable of forging agreements and negotiating alliances,” said
a prominent political consultant and professor at the Catholic University in Santiago. “He admits when he is wrong and commits to fixing what needs fixing.”
Mr. Tironi, who backed Mr. Boric, said his moderation has already caused tensions with more radical leftists in his coalition, including the communists whom he will need to govern. He could face a challenge if activists feel betrayed by his pivot to the center and restart protests, Mr. Tironi added.
Mr. Boric’s agenda will be hamstrung by a divided congress, analysts say. He will also face the highest inflation in a decade, affecting plans to boost public spending.
Mr. Pereira, the economist, sees a major test for Mr. Boric when the economy begins to slow, as authorities wind down a generous fiscal stimulus that has driven growth of 11% in 2021. If Mr. Boric reacts with more stimulus, that will undercut his message of fiscal discipline, said Mr. Pereira, who expects a recession in 2022.
“What will the Boric administration do?” he asked.
—Patricia Garip contributed to this article.
Write to Ryan Dube at [email protected]
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