Left Victory in Chile

The Authoritarian Right has been defeated in Chile’s presidential election by a 36-year-old former student activist. Dave Kellaway reports.


Gabriel Boric has defeated the fascist Pinochet supporter José Antonio Kast in the deciding round of Chile’s presidential election. Huge crowds are filling the squares of the main towns singing the old song of the Allende years El Pueblo unido jamas sera vencido (‘People united will never be defeated’). Despite Kast pipping him by two points in the first round a month ago and some polls suggesting it might be close, Boric won by over 55% to Kast’s 44.5%. 

Turnout increased from 45% to 55% between the two rounds, which suggests that Boric was able to mobilise people who were alienated from participating first time. He gained two million more votes than in the first round and broke the norm that the first-round winner always takes the second round.

Kast was able to accumulate the votes of Sichel’s mainstream right-wing party and a lot from the maverick businessmen Parisi, who had conducted his entire campaign from the United States. Unlike in Bolivia in 2019, there is not going to be any sort of Trumpian legal challenge: both Kast and Sichel have conceded in personal phone calls to Boric.

Who is Gabriel Boric?

At 36 years old, he only just qualified to stand for president. He will be the youngest ever Chilean president, as well as winning the most ever votes. Here is his first declaration on twitter and at the victory rally, which he began using the Mapuche indigenous language:

We are unity. We are hope. We are greater when we are united. We are facing a change of historical cycle. Let’s go forward… We will not be working just within the four walls of the palace… The people have entered the presidential palace.

In the speech, he repeated his call to block a controversial new copper mine because of its environmental impact, and he used some of the words uttered by Allende in 1973.

Hailing from the far south Punta Arenas region, he is the son of parents of Croatian and Catalan heritage. Moving to Santiago to do a law degree, he threw himself into the big student demonstrations of 2011. He became leader of the student federation and eventually became an MP as part of a current to the left of the traditional reformist Socialist and Communist Parties.

Elected for a second time, he participated in the mass upsurge of 2019 against austerity and the privatised model of education, welfare, and pensions. The Chilean state responded with violent repression – killing or maiming hundreds of demonstrators.

A number of activists opposed his role in negotiating the constitutional referendum with President Pinera. There was a split in his political party. However, the referendum and subsequent elections to the constitutional convention were won by the Left. Most progressive delegates were from outside the traditional reformist left parties. Yesterday’s victory continues this advance of the Left and seems to vindicate his constitutional referendum strategy.

A new generation

Boric represents a political generation critical of the super-moderate Concertacion parties – including the Socialist and Communist Parties – which managed the transition from Pinochet. The transition, though it ended Pinochet’s political role and brought positive democratic changes, did not purge the military nor fundamentally alter the anti-working class neoliberal economic model. 

In order to become the candidate of all the Left, Boric had to defeat the Communist Party candidate in a  primary. He has been in close contact with Podemos, the radical left group in Spain, since its emergence.

The current approach of Podemos, in coalition government with the moderate PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party), probably reflects Boric’s general politics today. One positive feature of his approach is that – unlike some Latin American left forces – he firmly rejects the strongman model, like Ortega’s repressive regime in Nicaragua.

Boric’s victory will give confidence to millions of people that they can win a majority for social and democratic reforms. It will strengthen the morale of all those thousands of political activists who fanned out across the country to mobilise support for him in the second round. The progressive majority in the constitutional convention will have an ally in the president, boosting the Left in future votes on a new constitution.

The victory will have a positive effect on the whole of Latin and Central America. Left victories in Peru, Bolivia, and Honduras have preceded the one in Chile, and there is a hugely important election coming up in Brazil, where polls show that Lula could defeat Bolsonaro. A new ‘pink’ tide is rising.

Challenges ahead

Turnout was the best ever in Chile, but that still leaves 45% of the electorate not voting, so there are still millions alienated from the political process. The fascists and the mainstream Right can still mobilise the 45% who voted for them and fish in the pool of the abstainers.

Extreme inequality and poverty scar Chilean society. If the new president’s reforms do not begin to tackle that seriously, then the right-wing populists can still win fresh support. We have seen how Bolsonaro managed to get a section of working people to support his demagogic politics. Racism against the Mapuche indigenous minority or migrants from other Latin American countries could be exploited by the Right to build opposition to the new government. 

Managing his own coalition will not be easy – there will be pressures to moderate his position and on the other side to radicalise it. His Social Convergence group is not hegemonic. Boric’s own political current is a minority in parliament, and the Right and the Centrists  have enough support to block or hinder change.

The fascists still got 45% of the vote and their support is particularly strong in the army and police. The capitalist establishment will fight to defend their right to make easy profits and to pay low taxes. It has plenty of funds to finance mobilisations or provocations. If Boric were to head up more radical challenges to capital or imperialist interests, then the US and the CIA could also play a hand in undermining the government. History could repeat itself.

Boric is not calling for the overthrow of capitalism. Between the two rounds of the election, in order to mop us more centrist voters, he signalled that he will take law and order more seriously and control illegal migration. Like Corbyn, he has a social-democratic programme which, if implemented, would lessen inequality and give confidence for further advances for working people.

This programme, however, like that of Corbyn, represents a challenge to the rule of capital in today’s context. Capitalist interests in Chile will do all they can to wreck the reforms. The strength of the fascist vote provides those interests with a substantial political base.

The key question for Boric’s political project will be whether he can renew and develop further the self-organisation seen in 2019. On the one hand, he should use the full institutional power and platform he now has to promote his vision of a fairer, more equal society. His focus will be on ending the worst aspects of the neoliberal model. Education and welfare are very limited and pensions are privatised. 

On the other hand, in order to implement these reforms, the people need to ‘own’ them. Boric needs to involve the masses in shaping and then defending the changes. If he leaves it all to negotiations in parliament, he will be vulnerable to a right-wing counter-offensive.

Already there have been difficulties among the independent organisations representing indigenous people, environmentalists, feminists, and different communities inside the constitutional convention. Hopefully, Boric’s victory will help overcome some of the problems involved in bringing the whole of the Left together in a common political project.

Whatever the future difficulties, today we should celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Chile. We can honour the memories of President Allende, the singer Victor Jara, revolutionary leader Miguel Enriquez, and the 30,000 activists who died in the fight against Pinochet. Their vision that a different world is possible lives on. Viva Chile! Viva el Pueblo!


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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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