At the age of 36, Gabriel Boric officially became the youngest president in Chile’s history, after an inauguration ceremony marked a tribute to former President Salvador Allende.
“As Salvador Allende predicted nearly fifty years ago, here we are again, dear compatriots, opening great avenues through which free men and women will pass to build a better society. Long live Chile! †launched the young head of state at the end of his speech to the nation for the presidency, a clear reference to the last speech of the former socialist president, delivered just before his suicide on September 11, 1973 from this palace de La Moneda was then surrounded by the putschist troops of General Augusto Pinochet.
“We would not be here without your mobilizations”also brought up the ex-student leader, notably in reference to the social uprising that shook the country in 2019, before a crowd of tens of thousands of euphoric people gathered in the Place de la Constitution.
The first day was rich in symbolic gestures. During the inauguration to succeed Sebastian Piñera (2010-2014, 2018-2022), Mr Boric swore, according to tradition, to respect the Constitution “before the eyes of the Chilean people”but add: “All Chilean Peoples”a reference to indigenous peoples, especially the Mapuche.
His government’s 24 ministers, aged 42 on average and composed mostly of women (14 out of 24), particularly in the sovereign positions of internal affairs, defense or foreign affairs, were subsequently sworn in.
“The Tomb of Neoliberalism”
About twenty international dignitaries attended the dubbing of the representative of a new generation of Chilean politics, including Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez; Peruvian, Pedro Castillo; Uruguayan, Luis Lacalle Pou; Bolivian, Luis Arce; and King Felipe VI of Spain.
At the end of the inauguration ceremony at the seat of parliament, in Valparaiso (150 km northwest of Santiago), from where the new president appeared on the arm of his companion, the new first lady, Irina Karamanos, Gabriel Boric boarded a convertible, driven by a woman according to protocol for the first time.
The former student leader, deputy since 2014, who as usual did not wear a tie, must now go beyond symbols and strive to keep his promises and give hope. He had said to himself: “convinced that the vast majority of Chileans are demanding structural changes”†
The political heir to the 2019 uprising, the president, who was elected in December to head a left-wing coalition, must find answers to demands for transformation of health, education and pension systems, as well as demands for reduction of inequalities.
According to him, the solution lies in the establishment of a welfare state inspired by European social democracy and a break with neoliberalism, of which Chile was the laboratory under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). “If Chile is the cradle of neoliberalism, it will be its grave too”he had thus launched the night of his primaries victory from the left against the communist candidate, Daniel Jadue, in July.
Lack of majority in parliament
If Chile’s economic achievements have been praised and envied for thirty years, they have been obtained at the cost of wide inequalities (1% of the population owns 26% of the wealth, according to the United Nations) and led to the violence of 2019.
The outgoing president was forced to give in to demands to draft a new constitution. After the election of the members of a Constituent Assembly, its development is in full swing and the new version will be submitted to a referendum in the course of 2022.
“Boric starts in a favorable climate of public opinion, thanks to the political capital he acquired in the elections and with the appointment of his government” open to different sensitivities, predicts Marco Moreno, director of the School of Political Science at the Central University of Chile.
But he will have to reform against a backdrop of economic slowdown and by bringing together a parliament far from won over to his cause: “The big challenge that Boric will have to face is to establish a dialogue to overcome the legal obstacles to having the capacity to finance his desires for a welfare state”says Mr. Rodrigo Espinoza, professor at Diego Portales University.