Chileans on Sunday elected Gabriel Boric, a leftist millennial who gained prominence as a student leader during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020, as their next president. His ultra-conservative rival, José Antonio Kast, conceded defeat about 90 minutes after polls closed, with Boric leading him by a wider-than-expected 12 percentage points, according to incomplete results. Boric will be the youngest leader in modern Chilean history, and the second-youngest leader in the West, following San Marino's Giacomo Simoncini.
Outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire, congratulated Boric on a publicly broadcast video call and pledged his government's support during the three-month transition period. Boric vowed to do his "best to rise to this tremendous challenge."
Boric ran on a platform of fighting climate change and economic inequality, reducing the workweek to 40 hours from 45, and transforming Chile's health care and private pensions systems — holdovers from the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet — into a more European-style social democratic model, all "without veering toward the authoritarianism embraced by so much of the left in Latin America, from Cuba to Venezuela," The Associated Press reports.
Chileans recently voted to replace Pinochet's constitution with a new one, and the late Pinochet, who took control of Chile in a 1973 coup and ruled until 1990, loomed over the polarizing election. Kast, whose older brother was a top adviser to Pinochet, defended the former dictator, under whom more than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared by the state. It also emerged during that campaign that Kast's German emigrant father was a card-carrying member of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party.
But Kast's quick concession and tweet congratulating Borck on his "great triumph" was "a model of democratic civility that broke from the polarizing rhetoric of the campaign" AP reports. Kast then " traveled personally to Boric's campaign headquarters to meet with his rival."
Voter turnout was 56 percent, a record since mandatory voting was scrapped 2012, and 1.2 million more people voted Sunday than in the first round that set up the Boric-Kast race. "It's impossible not to be impressed by the historic turnout, the willingness of Kast to concede and congratulate his opponent even before final results were in, and the generous words of President Pinera," said Cynthia Arnson, head of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center in Washington. "Chilean democracy won today, for sure."