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What Chile's new president could mean for the country's future

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

It's been two weeks since voters in Chile chose Gabriel Boric as their new president. The 35-year-old legislator and former student activist will be the youngest leader in the country's history, also its most left-leaning since a 1973 coup toppled the socialist government of Salvador Allende. Boric will take office after two years of political and social upheaval in Chile, driven by massive protests over inequality. Many Chileans think his success as president will depend on whether he can fulfill his promises to tax the rich and increase social spending. But Boric will also face another huge task. That's leading the country through the process of writing a new constitution.

To help us understand what this means for the country's future, we called Chilean journalist Francisca Skoknic. She's one of the creators of LaBot, a digital journalism platform in Chile. Francisca, welcome.

FRANCISCA SKOKNIC: Thank you.

FLORIDO: Gabriel Boric's victory is really a monumental shift for Chile, which, for many years, was a model of conservative economic and social policy in Latin America. After winning, Boric said Chile would now be the burial place for that model. Give us a sense of what Chile feels like now that there have been a couple of weeks to process Boric's win. What are people saying?

SKOKNIC: Well, this is just the beginning. It was a very tense campaign. After he won, the markets were very worried because of his economic policies. But then it tend to increase the markets. So now everyone is waiting who will be his finance minister. That's the most important name of the cabinet right now.

FLORIDO: As I mentioned, this election is not the only consequential decision that Chileans have made recently that is forging a big shift in the country. Another one came in 2021, when close to 80% of the population voted in favor of drafting a new constitution. Why did so many Chileans want to toss out the country's existing constitution?

SKOKNIC: Well, the current constitution was written during the military dictatorship in 1980. So many felt that the country couldn't move forward with this constitution if we want a more equal country. And a couple of years ago, there was this social upheaval, and there was a huge demand for more equality. And the constitution was seen as a possible solution to this big problem. There was a political agreement from all forces, including Boric. It has a huge support. But now there is a constitutional convention writing the draft. And in six months from now, there will be another referendum to approve or reject the draft.

FLORIDO: What do you see being the new president's biggest challenges as he tries to shepherd this process along and get Chileans to agree to the final product?

SKOKNIC: It's too early to know how it will be because they still don't start to write the constitution. They're just beginning to talk about the content of the norms. We know it will be a constitution that will include gender equality measures. It will defend indigenous rights, will have environmental protections. But to be honest, we don't know the details of it. So the challenge for Boric is to work with this convention in its first month and then to convince the people that the new constitution is the good thing for the country in the long term.

FLORIDO: How likely do you think a new document will be able to address a lot of the root causes of the political instability that the country has seen in the last two years?

SKOKNIC: It's hard to say. Sometimes the expectations in this process are too high because it's just the first step. Then the - you need to change laws. So it's a necessary step. And if the referendum is lost and the draft is reject, it will be very hard for Boric to move forward with his reforms. You know, it will be a sign of people no wanting change. So for Boric, it's vital to approve this constitution.

FLORIDO: That was Chilean journalist Francisca Skoknic. Francisca, thank you for joining us.

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