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Leftist millennial wins Chile's weekend presidential election


Huge crowds flooded the streets of Chile overnight, celebrating the election of a new president.


DETROW: That's what it sounded like in the capital, Santiago. The victor - Gabriel Boric, a millennial and a former student leader from the left. NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves has been following events in Chile and joins us now. Good morning, Phil.


DETROW: Boric won by a pretty substantial margin, but going in, wasn't the expectation that this would be a pretty close race?

REEVES: Yeah, he did much better than many people expected. He got 56%, which is more than 10 points ahead of his rival, who's from the far right, Jose Antonio Kast. In fact, his victory was so large that Kast conceded within about 90 minutes of the polls closing. For Boric's supporters, as you heard, this was a great triumph. Kast is ultra conservative, a hardliner on law and order, and he's expressed sympathies for some aspects of the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Boric managed to convince Chileans that they didn't want their country to take a sharp turn to the right and to get out and vote. Turnout was well above the generally low average for Chilean elections.

DETROW: A fast concession after a contentious election just feels like something to note at this moment in time in the U.S. But, Phil, tell us more about the president-elect.

REEVES: He's only 35, which makes him one of the youngest leaders in the world and the youngest in Chile's modern history. He comes from the far south of Chile. He made his name in student politics 10 years ago, leading street protests demanding better quality education. In this election, he positioned himself as the champion of those huge anti-government protests over inequality that erupted in Chile in late 2019. Those protests were driven by a whole load of grievances but particularly a general sense that the country's conservative economic model pioneered during the Pinochet era meant that government was just not delivering a fair deal to most Chileans. And Boric promised to change that. He's been promising to change that throughout this campaign. Since those protests, though, some of them were violent and Chile's been very deeply polarized. And in his victory speech last night, Boric promised to bring unity.


GABRIEL BORIC: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: He says he'll be the president of all Chilean men and women. And he also outlined some of his plans socially, putting a lot of emphasis also on his commitment to combating climate change and on his determination to make Chile a fairer society by expanding the government's role in providing social support and defending rights.

DETROW: Chile has been through years of political turbulence. You mentioned sometimes it's become violent. These were candidates with two very different worldviews. What happens next?

REEVES: Well, one area where this really does make a big difference is to do with the rewriting of the constitution. Those mass protests resulted in a national referendum in which Chileans overwhelmingly voted to scrap their Pinochet-era constitution. They went on to elect an assembly, a very diverse body; half of the members are women. And their job is to write a new one. So this is a big deal. We're talking about writing an entirely new set of rules for the country. Had Kast won, that process would have been in jeopardy. He was against it. It now stands a much better chance of going ahead, although the final document must still be approved by popular vote.

DETROW: That's NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves. And, Philip, always an extra thanks to a reporter up the morning after an election. Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.