Hope has triumphed over fear of uncertainty in Chile, and the result is impressive. Gabriel Boric's victory in the second round of the country's presidential elections has cleared the way for structural changes and a fairer society.
The biggest surprise is that he won by a comfortable margin of 11%. The many mainstream voters whose parties were eliminated in the first round ultimately helped him secure a clear win.
It was such a resounding victory in fact that the right-wing populist candidate José Antonio Kast conceded defeat when barely 50% of constituencies had declared results. It looks like good times are ahead.
More legitimacy thanks to high voter turnout
Another positive sign was the high voter turnout. This will give the next government more legitimacy and a broader base to work with. And in the best democratic tradition, both the losing candidate and the outgoing President Sebastián Piñera congratulated the winner and wished him success.
As the country celebrated democracy on Sunday evening, the mood was very different than it had been during the election campaign. Hopefully that buoyancy will remain when the new government takes office in a few months. It will be a tough road ahead. Boric is just 35: Now he is responsible for leading Chile in a new political direction, towards more integration and solidarity, while strengthening the welfare state. He has to be careful not to be too hasty with his reforms and derail the whole process.
He will also have to resist the pressure from traditional elites intent upon holding on to their privileges, and at the same time pressure from his own camp, which will be demanding quick results. He will also have to convince people that patience is a virtue when there is a clear goal and a clearly defined path towards it. And he will also have to convince the business community to join him on that path. After all, the best environment for business isn't social unrest but social stability. This was one of the lessons learned from the October 2019 protests.
Education and medical care for all
Boric and Chile's left now have an opportunity to prove that neoliberalism, which excludes many who can't keep up, is not the only route to progress. The new leader has an opportunity to prove that even in Latin America, it is possible to reduce abysmal social inequality without destroying the economy in the process. And also to refute those who dismiss calls for social justice as extreme left-wing rhetoric.
High-quality education for all is not a utopia. Neither is a health care system based upon solidarity, with the privileged helping the less fortunate. This is a reality in many European countries and none of them are run by the far left.
At a regional level, it will be the job of the Chilean left to banish the ghosts that continue to haunt Latin America in the shape of dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Dialogue and understanding are necessary
The challenges are many and they are complex. But it is worth taking a serious crack at them in a spirit of moderation and pragmatism. And it is time to discard the belief that the only choice people have is between neoliberalism and doom.
One of the strengths attributed to Boric is an ability to engage in dialogue and seek consensus. He will need this badly in a Congress in which he doesn't have a majority. But Chile's right wing also has to understand that it too needs to work towards a more just society, one that is driven by more than the unbridled pursuit of profit.
If the country wants to move confidently into the future, it will need a new social pact based upon a new constitution, which is currently being hammered out. The new government's first few months in office will be crucial if it wants to establish the level of trust required to move the constitutional process along. So that hope continues to maintain the upper hand over fear and uncertainty.
This article was translated from German.