Voters in Chile have confirmed the Andean nation's political shift to the left by electing Gabriel Boric as their next president.
The leader of a progressive coalition that includes the country’s Communist Party outperformed expectations by defeating his ultra-conservative rival José Antonio Kast by 56 per cent to 44 per cent in Sunday’s run-off round on what was record turnout.
Following the election in May of a left-leaning assembly tasked with drawing up a new constitution, Mr Boric’s victory seals a break with the liberal model that for decades made Chile the region’s most successful economy but became a target for widespread protests since 2019.
The former student leader had promised to meet the demands of the protesters by more aggressively using the state to tackle stubbornly high levels of inequality that lay behind the recent social unrest.
Central to his platform is a promise to raise taxes to fund improvements in public services such as health and education. In his victory speech he said he wanted “to convert what some see as consumer goods into guaranteed social rights for everyone whatever the size of their wallet and to guarantee a more secure and tranquil life, a happier life”.
At just 35 years old, Mr Boric will become the youngest president in his country's history, and the first from outside the the two centrists blocs that have dominated Chilean politics since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1990. After a highly polarised campaign he promised to govern for all Chileans and, while recognising the differences he has with his rival, said "we know how to build bridges".
On taking office in March, Mr Boric will immediately have to tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic while being forced to work with a fragmented congress in which he lacks a natural majority. He must also handle the negotiations around the new constitution being drafted, which will be sent for approval by voters later next year.
After a week in which his campaign flirted with refusing to recognise potential defeat in favour of taking the count to the courts, Mr Kast conceded early in the evening as the scale of Mr Boric’s victory quickly became apparent, promising “constructive collaboration” with the new administration.
The defeat of the first serious attempt by the far-right to return to power in Chile since the Pinochet dictatorship was celebrated by leftists across the region who face a number of key elections next year. Among those to vocally back Mr Boric were former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is set to run against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in October.
Mr Kast is an open admirer of the far-right Brazilian leader. Among his closest advisers is the Chilean-German businessman Sven von Storch who caused controversy in Brazil earlier this year when he had an off-agenda meeting with Mr Bolsonaro in the company of his wife Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party.