He was barely two years old in 1988, when the plebiscite that ended the Pinochet dictatorship was held. That time the forces that asked for his departure obtained 55% of the vote, the same figure that Gabriel Boric obtained on Sunday against José Antonio Kast, a candidate who did not hide his admiration for Pinochet, and who in a suicidal act was supported by all the right. In fact, last night people took to the streets to celebrate with a fervor reminiscent of that of 33 years ago, when Chile’s long and tumultuous transition to democracy began.
Boric had been defeated by Kast in the first round, on November 21. He recovered and achieved victory thanks to a radical change in his message and his attitude. From the condemnation of what was the period of the Concertación (the so-called “30 years”) he passed to the critical recognition of his work. From the break with his historical leaderships, such as Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet, he went on to humbly seek their endorsement and advice. From the somewhat high-sounding vindication of youth, he went on to identify himself as part of a long struggle that precedes him. This was evident in his speech Sunday night to a crowd of tough supporters. “I know that history does not start with us,” he said. “I feel like heir to a long historical trajectory, that of those who, from different positions, have tirelessly sought social justice, the expansion of democracy, the defense of human rights, the protection of freedoms. This is my big family, whom I would like to see reunited again in this stage that we are now beginning ”.
Boric’s turn allowed something that seemed unattainable: to reconstitute —as the numbers support— the old YES / NO cleavage of 1988; a cleavage from which the right wing had sought to extract ever since, since it condemned it to a minority position. With Kast, however, he has returned to the starting point, opening the possibility of a reconfiguration of the center-left. Indeed, if the 1988 plebiscite was the birth certificate of the Concertación, which governed most of the last 30 years, Sunday’s results could be the starting point of a new coalition, which will take some time to forge. with a broader composition and agenda and the leadership of a new generation.
On that, moreover, the success of the Boric government will largely depend. He will have to deal with a congress that is tied, fragmented (there are 21 parties!) And rebellious, with many parliamentarians who do not obey instructions from anyone. The constituent process is a source of uncertainty and, eventually, of polarization and institutional crisis if it is proposed to shorten the mandates of the recently elected authorities. A difficult economic context is added, especially for a country that since 2008 has not known any real crisis and a young generation that does not know how to pronounce the word inflation. Added to this is the stubborn violence in the Araucanía region and the immigration crisis.
Faced with such a scenario, Boric will have to freeze expectations, adopt severe economic issues (such as re-targeting the direct subsidies that were applied during the pandemic), gain the trust of investors, and give legitimacy to the action of the public force. This requires, sooner rather than later, transforming its electoral majority on Sunday into a political majority, as the Concertación did in the months that followed the triumph of the NO in 1988.
History repeats itself, and not always as comedy.
Eugenio Tironi is a Chilean sociologist, essayist and consultant.