SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Former student protest leader and leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric has his sights set on winning Chile’s presidential election on Sunday, which would make the 35-year-old the Andean country’s youngest ever leader and cap the return of the progressive left.
The former law student, leading a leftist coalition of the broad Frente Amplio and the Communist Party, has been marginally ahead in opinion polls against ultra-right rival Jose Antonio Kast in the run-up to the Dec. 19 winner-takes-all vote.
“You can count on me, I am going to act firmly to bring this country together again,” he told voters in a televised debate against Kast on Monday night, where he toned down earlier fiery rhetoric and spoke of the “stability” many moderate voters are seeking.
Boric, who rose to prominence leading student protests in 2011 demanding better and cheaper education, has tapped into public anger at Chile’s “neo-liberal” market-oriented policies, widely considered to have helped drive decades of rapid economic growth but also to have stoked inequality.
That imbalance sparked widespread angry social uprisings in 2019, lighting the fuse for the political rise of the progressive left and the redrafting of the country’s dictatorship-era constitution.
“If Chile was the cradle of neo-liberalism, it will also be its grave,” Boric said when he won the candidacy for his leftist bloc. “Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country.”
A native of Punta Arenas, in Chile’s far south, Boric as a student led the influential Federation of Students at the University of Chile in Santiago.
By 2014, still in his twenties, he had joined the national Congress as a lower house lawmaker, representing Chile’s vast and sparsely populated southernmost region of Magallanes.
With thick black hair and a trimmed beard, he is more groomed now than in his disheveled student leader days. Although a known face of the left in Chile, Boric was initially a dark horse candidate for the presidency.
He just reached the threshold of 35,000 signatures needed to be a candidate. But then he beat out the popular capital mayor Daniel Jadue – of the Communist Party – to lead the leftist alliance.
He has since looked to distance himself from some more extreme views from far-left groups in his alliance, including support from the Communist Party for the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Buoyed by youthful supporters, there has been a deluge of online memes backing him. High profile supporters include Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal from “The Mandalorian” and Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.
Former two-term Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave Boric her backing this week.
“What is going to be decided this coming Sunday is fundamental. No one can remain indifferent,” she said in a video message urging people to vote.
“Choose a president who ensures our country can truly continue on a path of progress for all, of greater freedom, equality, and human rights that are respected, a sustainable environment and of course the chance for a new constitution.”
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)