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Gabriel Boric will be Chile's youngest president, and the most left in decades

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Chile's next president, 36-year-old Gabriel Boric, will take office on Friday. He'll be not only Chile's youngest president ever but also its most left-leaning since the 1973 coup overthrew socialist Salvador Allende and ushered in a decades-long dictatorship. Boric is taking office at a time of massive change in Chile, facing demands to close gaping inequality. At the same time, the country is working on a new constitution. And so we're joined now by Chilean journalist Francisca Skoknic needs to talk about the significance of this moment. Francisca, welcome.

FRANCISCA SKOKNIC: Thank you.

FLORIDO: Describe for me, if you would, what Chile feels like just days before Gabriel Boric's inauguration, which, as we said, is historic.

SKOKNIC: Yes, there is a lot of expectation here. We are in the last week of the government of Pinera, who has a very low rate of approval. So we are waiting to see how this new government of young people will develop starting next Friday.

FLORIDO: And what are we going to see on Friday?

SKOKNIC: This young president is expected to arrive to the Congress without a tie for the first time and using a presidential band made by the member of a union of seamstresses. The sense he's transmitting is that this is a new way of dealing with the public affairs, less formal and more inclusive.

FLORIDO: After Boric's victory in December over a far-right candidate, a lot of people were looking for early signs of just how far left Boric would push Chile. He's not in office yet, of course, but what indications has he given of where he's headed?

SKOKNIC: Well, I think that the main indication took place when he unveiled the names of the members of his new cabinet. It was seen as a sign of how leftist he will be. And when he announced that his minister of finance will be Mario Marcel, there was some relief in the markets and the most conservative people because Mario Marcel is probably one of the most respected economists in Chile. He was the chief of the budget department during the Lagos administration. And then Michelle Bachelet appointed him as the head of the Central Bank. And last year, Sebastian Pinera confirmed him for another period, which shows how respected he is in all the political spectrum.

FLORIDO: Boric campaigned as a leftist. Is there a sense of frustration that maybe he's already doing what politicians often do after they get elected, which is move toward the center?

SKOKNIC: There were some people that were not so happy, mostly from the Communist Party, but I think that most of the people are realists. And they know that you need some economic stability. And what Marcel has said is that he backs all the reforms that Boric announced. But to fund those reforms and to make them long-term reforms, you need fiscal responsibility.

FLORIDO: There was something else that jumped out in the announcement of his cabinet, and that's that the majority of its members are women. How significant is that for Chile?

SKOKNIC: It's very significant. For the first time, we have more women than men in the cabinet, 14 of the 24 of them. And he announced that he will lead a feminist government. So he made a call to all the men to join him in this project. And also, his new woman minister will be part of what is called the political committee, which is the place where all the important decisions are made. And the objective is the same one, that you have to introduce gender perspective to all the public policies. So it's very significant for him.

FLORIDO: As I mentioned, Chile is currently in the middle of rewriting its constitution, which has been in place since the Pinochet dictatorship. Boric does not have a direct role in this process, but I wonder what implications that process could have for the start of his presidency.

SKOKNIC: It is very important because formally, the Constitutional Convention is independent from the government. But you know that at the end of the process, there will be a referendum to approve or reject the new constitution. The result of that referendum will be read as a success or failure for Boric. It's the first time in recent history that the president faces an election in his first six months of government. So he needs the Constitutional Convention succeed. And it's not too obvious that it will be that way.

FLORIDO: A time of significant change in Chile. Francisca Skoknic, a journalist based in Santiago, Chile.

Thanks for being with us.

SKOKNIC: Thank you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.