In the second round of Chile’s presidential election on December 19, the 35-year-old candidate from the “Approve Dignity” political bloc, Gabriel Boric, received almost 56% of the vote and became the youngest president in the country’s history. Who is Boric? Which path did the Chileans take this time?
At some point in the past, Chile’s economy was one of the most stable in Latin America. However, according to the latest indicators, today there is a huge social stratification in the country, the gap in the income level of the poorest and richest has grown significantly in recent years. According to the UN, “Chilean inequality” is one of the most significant in the world: 1% of the population owns 25% of the country’s wealth. According to the Central Bank of Chile, the rise in prices in the country in 2021 amounted to 7.2%, which was the highest rate since 2007.
This is evidenced by data published on January 8 by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) of the country. The report notes that in December 2021, the consumer price index rose by 0.8%, while the change for 12 months of 2021 was 7.2%. In the conclusion of the NIS it is said that in 2021 Chile saw the most growth in prices for transport (18.9%), services in the field of recreation and tourism (14.4%), as well as in the sector of restaurant and hotel business (10,1%). Food and non-alcoholic beverages rose in price by an average of 5.5%. According to the Chilean Central Bank, this price increase is mainly due to the extraordinary growth in domestic demand and the depreciation of the Chilean peso.
For Chile, one of the most developed states in Latin America, against the background of such economic indicators, 2021 ended with a fateful presidential election, in which the left-wing radical Gabriel Boric from the political bloc “Approve Dignity” (Spanish – Abruebo Dignidad ) defeated the son of a former member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (German – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei; abbr.: NSDAP) – José Antonio Kast. The right-wing populist Antonio Kast received 44% of the vote in the second round. Kast, 55 years old, has campaigned for a free market, drastic tax cuts, a determined fight against illegal migration and crime, and against abortion and LGBT marriage. According to analysts, the father of nine children, a conservative Catholic, leader of the Republican Party (Spanish – Partido Republicano) is considered a supporter of the former dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet (Spanish – Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte).
By the way, referring to history, Pinochet built a model of the maximum free market and right-wing conservative ideology. Although this construction was based on the military strength of the general’s supporters, the positive dynamics of economic development, which was a consequence of his rule, did not contribute to dramatic changes in further development. Therefore, as observers note, for three decades Chileans have chosen moderate center-right and center-left. Until, in 2021, two antagonists came together in the second round: a representative of the right-wing radical forces, the son of the NSDAP member who fled to Chile after World War II – Antonio Kast and the son of a Croat and Catalan woman, student activist and left-wing radical Gabriel Boric. Both candidates have become outsiders of the political kaleidoscope of Chile, they represent parties that have never been part of the government before.
The only factor that softened this confrontation was the relatively low turnout, about 47% in the first round and just over 55% in the second. Thus, half of the country’s residents simply ignored the vote. It should be noted that even before the reign of Augusto Pinochet, as in most countries of the region, the Chileans were always quite clearly divided by political convictions into two camps: “right” and “left”. During the reign of the junta, the “left” was simply destroyed or intimidated, and also deprived of the right to vote. Nevertheless, according to economic indicators, after the fall of the military regime of Pinochet, the standard of living of Chileans was one of the highest in Latin America. For this reason, a number of supporters of the “right” still remind of the “Chilean economic miracle” of that time.
In recent years, the economy of the Latin American country has developed better than other states in the region. However, a free market economy did not contribute to a harmonious distribution of income and benefits among the population. This state of affairs is fully explained in economic theory by the main disadvantage of this model, since it ultimately leads to an increase in social stratification. The lack of public funds for education, pensions and medicine available to all segments of the population contributed to the fact that by 2021 the problems in these areas became the most urgent for Chileans.
Gabriel Boric promises to close these inequalities by reforming pension and healthcare systems, stimulating investment and cutting the workweek from 45 to 40 hours. Boric plans to raise the minimum wage from $386 dollars to $573 dollars and begin issuing interest-free and time-limited loans for higher education. The president-elect also intends to block the implementation of the controversial mining project, which has already been covered in previous articles by “LACRUS”. It is worth emphasizing that Chile is currently undergoing tremendous changes after the overwhelming majority of the population voted last year to amend the country’s constitution, adopted during the reign of Pinochet.
Boric will take office on March 11 and will certainly face an unprecedented challenge as the country’s future is at stake in the coming years. As noted by a number of political analysts, in the first place, a lot will depend on his appointment and timely decisions. In addition, international investors will closely monitor this process.
The main result of the elections in Chile at the end of 2021 was that after three decades of transition, Chileans gave their votes to finally abandon the controversial legacy of Augusto Pinochet and establish themselves as a state with a “left” social model. Only the nearest future will be able to show how viable and effective such a social structure will be. However, it is quite obvious that the adoption of the new Constitution will become an important variable in the construction of the model conceived by Boric.