Left millennial wins election for the next President of Chile


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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – A left-wing millennial, known during anti-government protests, was elected the next President of Chile on Sunday after a bloody campaign against a free market arsonist compared to Donald Trump.

With almost 99% of the polling stations, Gabriel Boric won 56% of the vote, compared to 44% for his opponent, the legislator José Antonio Kast.

In a model of courtesy that broke with the polarizing rhetoric of the campaign, Kast immediately recognized defeat and tweeted a photo of himself on the phone, on which his opponent congratulated him on his “great triumph”. Meanwhile, outgoing President Sebastian Pinera – a Conservative billionaire – held a video conference with Boric to offer full support to his government during the three-month transition period.

“I will be the president of all Chileans,” said Boric during the brief television appearance with Pinera.

Boric’s victory is likely to be felt across Latin America, where ideological divisions have grown amid the coronavirus pandemic that wiped out a decade of economic gains, exposed long-standing health care deficiencies, and deepened inequality.

At 35, Boric will be Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March and only the second millennial president of Latin America after Nayib Bukele from El Salvador.

He was one of several activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for better education. On the stump he promised to “bury” the neoliberal economic model that General Augusto Pinochet had left behind from 1973-1990 and to raise taxes for the “super-rich” in order to expand social benefits, combat inequality and strengthen environmental protection.

Kast, who has defended Chile’s military dictatorship in the past, finished the race two points ahead of Boric in the first ballot last month, but did not receive a majority of the votes. That led to a direct duel against Boric.

Boric was able to reverse the difference by expanding beyond its base in the capital, Santiago, and attracting voters in rural areas who disagree with political extremes. In the northern region of Antofagasta, for example, where he finished third in the first ballot, he beat Kast by almost 20 points.

Compared to the first round of voting, an additional 1.2 million Chileans cast their vote on Sunday, bringing the turnout to almost 56%, the highest since compulsory voting was lifted in 2012.

“It is impossible not to be unimpressed by the historic turnout, Kast’s willingness to admit and congratulate his opponent even before the final result, and the generous words of President Pinera,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of Latin America Program of the Wilson Center in Washington. “Chilean democracy has certainly won today.”

Kast, 55, a devout Catholic and father of nine children, came off the far right in 2017 after receiving less than 8% of the vote. As an admirer of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, he rose steadily in these polls with a divisive discourse that emphasizes conservative family values ​​and plays with Chilean fears that an increase in migration – from Haiti and Venezuela – is driving crime.

As a legislator, he has been shown to attack the Chilean LGBTQ community and advocate more restrictive abortion laws. He also accused outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, a Conservative, of betraying the economic legacy of General Augusto Pinochet, the country’s former military leader. Kast’s brother, Miguel, was one of Pinochet’s top advisors.

“I’m very relieved,” said Mónica Salinero, a teacher who attended the celebration of Boric’s victory in Santiago’s Plaza Italia, the site of the 2019 protests.

In the past few days, both candidates have tried to pivot towards the center.

“I’m not an extremist. … I don’t feel quite right, ”announced Kast in the last play, although he was followed by revelations that his father, who was born in Germany, was a member of Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP.

Boric, who is supported by a coalition of left parties that includes the Communist Party of Chile, brought in more centrist advisors on his team and promised that all changes would be gradual and financially responsible.

“On both sides, people vote out of fear,” said Robert Funk, political scientist at the University of Chile, before the vote was counted. “Both sides are particularly enthusiastic about their candidate, but they vote out of fear of an authoritarian relapse at Kast or out of fear that Boric is too young, inexperienced and communist-oriented.”

Boric’s victory is likely to be tempered by a divided Congress.

In addition, the political rules could soon change with a newly elected convention rewriting the Pinochet-era country’s constitution. The Convention – the country’s most powerful elected institution – could theoretically call for new presidential elections when it concludes its work next year and the new charter is ratified in a referendum.

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Associated Press writer Patricia Luna reported in Santiago and AP writer Joshua Goodman reported from Miami.

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