The Chilean transition to democracy is marked in political history as the period of time that succeeded the military dictatorship of Pinochet in 1990. During this period democratic institutions were strengthened and the political power of the military was slowly rolled back. In addition, an economic consensus around "neoliberal" economics accompanied by rapid economic growth, a decline of anti-dictatorship insurgency that rejected the new democracy and political rule of a centre-left coalition led by two consecutive Christian Democrats presidencies, were the main characteristics of that decade. However, with Gabriel Boric as Chile’s next president who will govern during a historic period of constitutional change, following a referendum on a new constitution, replacing the 1980 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship-era one, we would unambiguously witness the second transition of this country, expected to produce far-reaching changes.
The preparation for the 1990 transition began within the dictatorship itself when a Constitution establishing a transition itinerary was approved in a plebiscite. From March 11, 1981, to March 1990, several organic constitutional laws were approved, leading to the final restoration of democracy. After the 1988 plebiscite, the 1980 Constitution (which is still in effect today) was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the constitution, create more seats in the senate, diminish the role of the National Security Council, and equalize the number of civilian and military members (four members each).
Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994 and was succeeded by another Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of Eduardo Frei Montalva), leading the same coalition for a six-year term. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy led the Concertacion to a narrower victory in the 2000 presidential election. His term ended on March 11, 2006, when Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party took office. Center-right investor and businessman Sebastián Piñera, of the National Renewal, assumed the presidency on March 11, 2010, after Bachelet's term expired. Bachelet returned to the office on March 11, 2014, being succeeded by Piñera in the following term (2018–2022).
Nevertheless, this November saw Gabriel Boric having a serious chance of becoming Chile’s next president, despite the fact that his far-right opponent, Kast, who offered an opposite agenda, holding a narrow lead. The two men offer antithetical agendas: Kast has centred his campaign on conservative social values, security and migration, while Boric espouses an egalitarian, feminist and ecological future for Chile. At the heart of his agenda is the overhaul of a free-market model that has enabled economic growth at the cost of deeply entrenched inequalities. While Kast proudly declares himself politically incorrect and opposes marriage equality, Boric pushes inclusivity and progressive social values. Obviously, the race was the most polarizing and acrimonious in recent history, presenting Chileans with starkly different visions on issues including the role of the state in the economy, the rights of historically marginalized groups and public safety. And the stakes were higher than in other presidential contests: The incoming president stands to profoundly shape the effort to replace Chile’s Constitution, imposed in 1980 when the country was under military rule.
During the long, grey winter of 2011, thousands of Chilean university students occupied their campuses for months to demand free, high-quality education for all. Now, a decade after they brought their demands to the top of the national agenda, that same generation is heading into the most divisive presidential election in years. According to the former student leader Gabriel Boric, on a pledge to overhaul the neoliberal economic model left behind by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the ‘Chilean miracle’ was just for the outside world. In reality, this progress could not actually be found. That is the reason that Boric wanted to implement changes in the current model: the total privatisation of social rights, the triumph of individualism over cooperation, and a development model based on the extraction of natural resources. In October 2019, those conditions helped tip Chile, almost overnight, into the largest protest movement in decades. The country was paralysed as millions took to the streets against a host of social and economic injustices. The unrest led to a referendum last year in which Chileans voted by a huge majority to elect an assembly that is drafting a new constitution. After two tumultuous years, Boric has drawn his campaign programme together from the demands of hundreds of local meetings around the country, and he is broadly offering to make Chile more equal, sustainable, participatory and decentralised. Although some Chileans were concerned by Boric’s proximity to the Communist party, which is supporting his candidacy, after the party’s leader congratulated the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for his recent victory in elections which were widely condemned, it was obvious that his commitment to democracy in Chile, Latin America, and beyond was “absolute”.
Shift to new perspectives as the cause of the rise of the new President
Chilean politics were in a state of upheaval in 2019 and 2020 when the country was rocked by massive demonstrations against Chile’s high levels of economic inequality. These protests led to Chile’s historic vote in 2020 to reform the country’s constitution whose design was heavily influenced by the outgoing Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Now, the upcoming first round of its presidential election on November 21, was to demonstrate just how much Chile has changed and whether the country was ready to remake itself in the image of Boric’s determined generation.
Chile's free and fair elections set a "powerful example" for the region and the world, U.S. President Joe Biden told leftist leader Gabriel Boric, congratulating him while the two leaders discussed their shared commitment to social justice, democracy, human rights and inclusive growth. Simultaneously, Biden underscored the importance of U.S.-Chile cooperation to promote a green and equitable recovery from the pandemic and to address the existential threat posed by climate change.
Chile’s next president will be in power during a historic period of constitutional transition, but opposition in Congress is expected to hinder Gabriel Boric’s ambitious, social-democratic agenda when he takes office next year. Boric, a 35-year-old left-wing congressman was elected after defeating far-right candidate José Antonio Kast by more than 11 percentage points. Voter turnout, especially high among women and young Chileans, was greater than in any election since mandatory voting was scrapped in the South American nation in 2012, and when he officially takes up the presidency in March, Boric will be Chile’s youngest-ever president. Boric’s broad socio-democratic and openly feminist platform, which promised a pension system overhaul, universal public health, progressive tax reform, and a focus on human rights and combatting climate change. He was also the only candidate with consequential proposals to decentralise governance and to shift towards a more sustainable development model. When Boric takes office on March 11, he will also be the first Chilean president not to hail from the Santiago or Valparaiso regions in central Chile. The president-elect is from Punta Arenas, 2,180 km (1,355 miles) by air south of Santiago, the capital.
Boric’s programme also depends on additional state resources generated through his proposed fiscal and tax reforms. But the proposed measure with the highest potential is combatting tax evasion. However, according to prominent analysts, Boric will likely face complex challenges in the next Congress, which will be extremely fragmented when it is seated in March.
Although the new constitution is expected to lead to more profound transformations for Chile, it remains unclear how Mr. Boric’s presidency, relying on the implementation of new perspectives and representing a departure from the mold of traditional presidential candidates will unfold.