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Chile: A victory for the 2019 social explosion

Thousands take to the streets to celebrate the Boric victory

Editorial staff member Gustavo Sixel
The Latin American left has followed the last days of the Chilean electoral campaign and viewed the extremely polarized and, according to the polls, uncertain scenario with apprehension. Once the election began, the small lead held by Gabriel Boric turned into a historic and unquestionable victory. He received 55.87% of the vote against 44.13% for the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast. Boric won in almost every region, and in some of these the victory was even greater, such as the 60.33% vote in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago and 59.33% in Valparaiso. Boric’s victory was immediately acknowledged by his opponent, and crowds took to the streets of Santiago and the country’s main cities with flags, parties, and blaring car horns.

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded into the Santiago city center to celebrate Boric’s victory, with crowds stretching from the Moneda Palace to the Plaza Italia, which was baptized ‘Plaza Dignidad’ (Dignity Square) during the 2019 protests. These numbers compare favorably to those of the country’s largest protests. The joy is proportionate to the expectations that people have in Boric, the 35-year-old, tattooed young man who was politically molded in student struggles and whose party was only legalized only a year ago. What is the explanation for his victory?

One indisputable aspect of the result was the turnout. In a country where voting is no longer compulsory, the 8.32 million voter turnout for the election was a record. A total of 55% of voters cast their ballots in the second round, compared to 47% in the first round. This record turnout occurred even with the transport company boycott in Greater Santiago that took part of the bus fleet off the streets. As São Paulo teachers’ union (APEOESP) member and Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) militant João Zafalão who observed the elections explained, “The campaign here ended on Thursday. We walked down the street and there were no campaign signs, no papers. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But on the day, people left their homes to vote, and given the lack of transport, organized solidarity volunteer transport schemes”.

Boric went into the second round in second place behind Kast. The electoral feat achieved by him can be explained by the combination of several factors. Above all, he managed to convey the strength of the ‘estallido social’ (social explosion) that rocked Chile in 2019 and backed the government of Sebastian Piñera into a corner. The Boric candidacy represented the various struggles that have shaken Chile since 2011, such as those of the youth for public education (which he is a direct representative of as a former student leader), the indigenous peoples’ struggles for their territories and cultures, the feminist mobilizations against patriarchy and gender violence, LGBTQI+ and ecological causes, along with the other banners that are dear to the generations that have taken to the streets in recent years. Even with the limits of his candidacy, it can be affirmed that the force of activism, especially that of youth, embraced the campaign in the second round and ensured its victory. This is a repetition of what occurred in the Constituent Convention election when the right and the far-right were in the minority. It is the expression of a real desire for a political agenda of change.

The Boric candidacy managed to express the strength of the social explosion, not only among the sectors directly in struggle, but with the populations of the poor neighborhoods and the most precarious and impoverished workers. As opposed to what occurred in Brazil, the silent vote in Chile fell in favor of the left. In the poor neighborhoods and urban municipalities, his victory already occurred in the first round and became even more pronounced in the second.

This result seems to correspond with the fundamental motivation of the Chilean uprising, a revolt against a neoliberal economic model where all natural goods and rights – water, health, education – have been turned into commodities, and the vast majority of families live in debt. All indications suggest that, despite the growth of the far-right among popular sectors, the left has managed to symbolize the feeling of change and present itself as the alternative for achieving a better life, where, like the motto of the 2019 protests, “la dignidad se haga costumbre” (dignity becomes custom).

Kast was only victorious in the wealthiest regions of Greater Santiago.

Another aspect that explains Boric’s victory was his ability to attract the votes and support from the center, center-left, and even the center-right, as seen in support from the Christian Democracy, the Socialist Party, and former president Michelle Bachelet. Boric’s winning of support from this slice of the electorate demonstrated the defeat of the narrative of fear that his opponent tried to impose in the second round. Kast tried to do this by associating the Boric candidacy with violence and disorder, while offering a scenario of social peace for those voters nostalgic for the “order” imposed during the Pinochet dictatorship, especially among the upper classes who created security cordons in their wealthy neighborhoods during the October protests. In response to the dirty social media campaign against him and the raising of the specter of communism, Boric said in his victory speech that “hope has conquered fear.”

Boric used this fear to his benefit, won the votes of the center, and associated the Kast candidacy with the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship. The fear of a return to authoritarianism strengthened the anti-Kast vote. Even if the electoral center did not fully agree with the agenda of the streets and his campaign, this part of the electorate nevertheless tilted towards Boric. This movement may have also affected voters who opted for right-wing alternatives in the first round, but who voted for Boric and his defense of democracy and against the danger represented by a neofascist like Kast and a return of the dark times of the dictatorship. In a vote that took on the character of a plebiscite, this dealt another blow to ‘pinochetismo’, whose legacy returned to the center of the debate with the death of Pinochet’s widow Lucía just three days before the election.

Similarly, Boric was also aided by a triumphant caravan of rallies and activities that sought out undecided voters and those who did not vote in the first round in different regions of the country, especially in the country’s south.

A government facing many challenges

Boric gave a victory speech promising the social changes that the country needs, with an agenda in tune with the streets. He asked for the continued support of the masses in attendance to help sustain these changes and the new constituent convention. But after the well-deserved celebrations, his coalition will face many challenges and obstacles. The market’s discourse of fear and blackmail has already begun, with the rise of the US dollar and the fall of the stock market the day after the victory. Particularly hard hit were mining company stocks, a valuable natural resource for the Chilean economy that is in private hands today. Besides the hand of the market, the new government is a minority in the elected congress and is faced with a right-wing majority that can act to block the government’s agenda, unlike the Constituent Assembly with its progressive majority.

“The first and greatest of the government’s tasks will be the victory of the ‘Yes’ vote in the plebiscite on the new Constitution, which is being written by a Chamber in which the left has two-thirds of the seats, a balance of forces very different from that in Congress. The government and the new Constitution need to break with the neoliberal order and open a future of dignity for Chile,” said Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) International Relations secretary Deborah Cavalcante, who observed the election.

However, his biggest challenge will be combating the ideas of the defeated candidate and the weight of neofascism in Chilean society which has achieved mass support, is far removed from the single-digit results of previous elections and has won the hearts and minds of thousands, even within the popular sectors. Boric will need to compete with this political force, which despite its claims to the contrary, will act in fierce opposition to the new government and in concert with the global far-right.

In this regard Boric, as he announced in his speech, will need to govern with his “feet in the streets.” That is, if his government wants to impose changes and restore dignity to the Chilean people, it will need to rely on the mobilization of workers, women, and youth. The part of Boric’s speech where he states that he will “seek bridges” with all sectors of society, including Kast, is of real concern. It remains to be seen whether this part of the speech was only an expression of a Chilean political tradition of thanking and interacting with the defeated, or whether Boric and the Broad Front really believe dialogue to be possible. As we have learned from Bolsonarismo in Brazil and the lessons of the history of the last century, no bridges and dialogue are possible with fascism.

In any event, it is time to celebrate. As Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) leader Guilherme Boulos, who was part of the PSOL caravan to Chile stated: “May the defeat of Kast help bury the cycle of the far-right on the continent and herald the defeat of Bolsonaro in 2022.”

This article is an English translation of “Chile: Uma vitória do estallido social”, [https://esquerdaonline.com.br/2021/12/20/chile-uma-vitoria-do-estallido-social/], Esquerda Online (EOL), 20/12/2021.

Translation: Bobby Sparks

Marcado como:
chile / gabriel boric