[Column] The 35-year-old presidential candidate calling for the 'death of neoliberalism' in Chile

한겨레 입력 2021. 10. 17. 09:16
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A product of Chile's 2011 student protests, Gabriel Boric has brought welcome excitement and vision to the nation's presidential election
Kim Soon-bae

By Kim Soon-bae, director of the Center for Comparative Korean Studies at the Central University of Chile

Waves of change are surging through the “neoliberal paradise” of Chile as 35-year-old left-wing congressman Gabriel Boric became the frontrunner in this year’s presidential race. A poll released on Oct. 4 showed support for Boric at 22%, surpassing that for far-right candidate José Antonio Kast (15%), center-right Sebastián Sichel (12%), and center-left Yasna Provoste (12%). The poll found that 37% of respondents believe that Boric will win the upcoming presidential elections on Nov. 21. A year younger than People Power Party’s Lee Jun-seok, Boric would become Chile’s youngest president if elected.

Lee’s ascent as the youngest leader of South Korea’s main opposition party revealed the public’s desire to see change in local politics. Boric’s rise symbolizes the strong demand from Chilean lower classes for social reform, in addition to a longing for a paradigm shift away from outdated political alignments.

As president of the Student Federation of the University of Chile, Boric was one of the voices of the social movement in the 2011 nationwide student protests calling for the end of profit-seeking education. From activist to lower house congressman at age 28 in 2014, he has since grown into the leader of a new political force. Contrary to Lee’s neat suits, Boric’s visage bears the struggles of this reformation; at first glance, his striped t-shirts, tousled hair, and scraggly beard are reminiscent of revolutionary figure Che Guevara.

Boric has committed to fixing the fundamental problems of Chilean society. This includes integrating public and private health insurance, collectivizing the country’s privately run pension system and introducing a basic pension scheme, reforming the neoliberal education model and guaranteeing the right to education, recognizing indigenous autonomy, raising taxes on the rich, pushing for workers’ rights and introducing a 40-hour workweek, and promoting decentralization and local government.

His left-wing coalition, which includes the communist party, is often attacked as being radical leftists. The right describes Boric as “more guerilla than leader” and denounces his promises as “the drunken babble of Latin America’s left.” Even so, Boric’s words and policies convey his desire for change as well as his bold dreams for Chile’s future.

Boric continues to shake off doubts about his age. He shone debates in late September, projecting stability while not stirring up controversy. His rational and reconciliatory attitude when he defeated a prominent Communist Party presidential hopeful boosted his image. He contributed to procedural reform, having joined in the political consensus that sought to craft a new constitution to end the chaos sparked by mass protests calling for the impeachment of President Sebastián Piñera’s in late 2019.

With the slogan, “A government that will push for transformation, step by step, leaving no one behind,” Boric’s words resonate with centrists as he paints a picture of gradual, full-scale and inclusive reform. This contrasts with the center-left who, embroiled in internal strife, have lost the trust of their traditional support base, and the center-right, who have shed the right wing while chasing moderates.

The hunger for social change was reflected in this May’s regional and constitutional assembly elections that witnessed the fall of the political establishment, the emergence of independent candidates, and the rise of the radical left.

November will host both presidential and congressional elections that will see all 155 lower house lawmakers and 27 of 43 upper house lawmakers newly elected. The left wing is expected to perform well in this election, which would empower Boric’s planned reforms.

Boric famously once said, “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.” If a new constitution that would uproot and replace Chile’s current foundations is passed next year, his declaration may come true. Although the situation could still change in the runoffs and the right may well challenge and destabilize his platform, Boric has stood and faced the nation to present his plans for the future.

It’s a pity that South Korea’s present politics and presidential elections lack the excitement of Boric’s bold vision.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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