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Chile: the long and winding road ahead

El Siglo editor HUGO GUZMAN puts into context the immense electoral victory of Gabriel Boric and the progressive, left-wing forces united in the Apruebo Dignidad coalition

THE former law student, Gabriel Boric, 35, received the most votes in any presidential election in Chile in the post-dictatorial era (55.86 per cent — 4.6 million votes).

He will be the youngest president of the republic and his election came as a result of unprecedented voter participation — almost 56 per cent of the around eight million entitled to vote.

The turnout came as a surprise and Boric won by 10 percentage points over his opponent, rightwinger Jose Antonio Kast — a political and electoral thrashing.

It is an immense achievement for the Chilean progressive and left-wing forces that are united in the Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) coalition — including Frente Amplio (Broad Front), the Communist Party and other organisations.

Boric was supported by the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party and Liberals, who endorsed him but were not part of the left alliance.

The support of independents and broad segments of the social, cultural, academic, scientific, feminist, labour, homeless and human rights movements was just as decisive.

Although social networks were used, it was the “boots on the ground” work that was decisive — thousands of activists and ordinary people mobilised in the streets, neighbourhoods, towns and communities in Chile’s 16 regions.

A few days before the elections Boric’s HQ reported that more than 800,000 house-to-house visits had been made throughout the country.

Boric’s campaign identified a number of priorities, including the fight against drug-trafficking and crime, reinforcing objectives such as increasing the minimum wage and decent pensions in retirement, defending women’s rights, improving healthcare and education and tackling housing shortages.

There was another significant factor in this second round — the calls to “Stop fascism” and pledges that “Hope triumphs over fear” which resonated with the people after Kast criticised the programme of “social rights,” supported the government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and defended Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

Kast proposed closing the National Institute of Human Rights and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, intercepting citizens’ communications, reversing sexual diversity rights and the three-causal abortion law, increasing prison sentences for demonstrators and supporting all actions of the police and the army.

He also called for extending privatisation in education and health and withdrawing Chile from the UN Human Rights Commission.

So, Boric’s victory also meant “stopping fascism” — the visceral fear of falling back into a regressive, obscurantist and authoritarian period influenced the Chileans’ vote.

So a defeat was handed out to the international extremist right whose representatives came to intervene in the electoral process, with visits in the run-up to the polls from Spain’s Vox party and the Venezuelan, French and Brazilian far right.

Luckily, there is an intense struggle between the extreme right and the traditional right.

But while Kast and his party did not fare well, the more traditional right will try to regain strength as the opposition to the Apruebo Dignidad government.

It has more than 45 per cent of the Senate and a somewhat smaller percentage in the lower house. Moreover, it has leaders with national presence who could even be presidential challengers in four years’ time.

Nor must we forget the political interventions that will be developed by big business, financial groups, the conservative media and the military.

Boric and his supporters will have a government that will promote transformations in the areas of pensions, health, the environment, taxes and institutional reforms, in line with the principles of “dismantling neoliberalism.”

These changes will confront the “extractivist” and privatising development model — Boric himself said poignantly that the country that gave birth to neoliberalism will now became its grave.

A new constitution will come into force at the end of 2022, which, it is hoped, will introduce change to Chile’s institutional, economic, political and social structures.

The new government will have to face the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, a difficult economic situation, the migration crisis, the continuing crisis in public security and, most importantly, pressures from the hegemonic financial sectors, both local and foreign.

Boric spoke of an “even” parliament, which suggests that dialogue and the negotiating skills of the president-elect and his ministerial cabinet will be essential to pass new and necessary laws.

The votes of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Liberals and other political currents will be required.

There is more certainty and optimism now with a transformative government soon in place and a constitutional convention in progress.

Transformation, however, while popular with ordinary working people, will be undermined at every turn and torpedoed where possible by powerful conservative and authoritarian forces.

This is why Apruebo Dignidad and other sectors have reiterated that Boric’s government will need the active support of social movements and civil society.

The mobilisation and participation of broad popular sectors, professionals, intellectuals, artists, feminists, young people, indigenous people and workers in support of social and institutional change will be essential.

Observers have pointed out that, with Boric’s entry into La Moneda — seat of the parliament and the former mint, hence the name “the Coin” — a generational change is taking place in Chilean political life, with all that this implies: among other things, leaving behind those who were the protagonists of the anti-dictatorship struggles in the ’80s and ’90s and then in the transitional era.

It appears that it will be the under-30 and under-40 generations who will take the leading role in these new and decisive years for the country.

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