On December 19th, 2021, Chile followed the wave of left-wing victories in the region by electing 35-year-old former student leader Gabriel Boric. Boric’s win highlights a dynamic change for Chile: a leftist incumbent who is working to eradicate the lingering legacies of dictatorship.
In 1973, Augusto Pinochet commanded Chile’s armed forces to seize control of the country, resulting in the collapse of Chilean democracy.  Pinochet banned left-wing parties, increased his presidential power, and censored the media, all of which are symptoms of democratic erosion. Recently, right-wing president Sebastián Piñera has led the country. His presidency might have given hope of a democracy, but he was unable to control parliament or opposition groups. In 2019, mass protests took place fighting for better education, improved pensions, and the end of a system that favors Chile’s wealthiest. After such tumultuous events, Chile went on to choose between two candidates to replace the president: Kast and Boric. José Antonio Kast, the conservative candidate, idolizes Pinochet and shared similar, populist values for the country. Boric, on the other hand, epitomized Chile’s social movement. He became the candidate who argued for abortion rights, fought to undo neoliberal policies, and hoped to advance healthcare and social security for the poor.
Chile’s political history shows the ups and downs of democracy and the constant concern of populism. From Boric’s win, we can see how certain democratic features can be pursued. While they are not nearly enough and do not guarantee the sustenance of democracy, these features are a good start. What lessons can we learn from Chile’s road to democracy?
1. Mutual toleration is a must
In How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt establish mutual toleration as a norm that is essential to a functioning democracy. To summarize, they claim that as long as “our rivals play by constitutional rules,”  we will accept and respect their right to govern. In America, with Biden’s recent election, we saw that that was not the case. However, the opposite occurred in Chile.
Boric’s win may have signaled a big shift in the party, but that didn’t stop him, Piñera, and Kast from demonstrating mutual toleration. The day after he secured the decisive election victory, Boric met with President Piñera at the presidential palace, where Piñera offered his full support during the transition and acknowledged his term ending in March. Furthermore, Kast immediately conceded defeat before final results even rolled in and publicly congratulated his opponent. Cynthia Arnson, head of the Latin America program in Washington, acknowledged this peacekeeping, saying “Chilean democracy won today, for sure.” The president is the face of the party and the country, and Chile’s demonstration of respect for this highlights how Chile encourages a democracy today.
2. The Constitution needs to be revised
Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that despite a country’s great faith in their Constitution, “even well-designed constitutions cannot, by themselves, guarantee democracy.”  However, in Chile’s case, the old constitution reflects the dictatorship of Pinochet: it was approved through illegitimate means and was anti-democratic in its original form. The political unrest that began in 2019 reflected this renewed frustration with a political system that most Chileans did not approve of. While the constitution has been amended over the years, it still ensues corruption. However, this consistent editing shows progress, and now Boric can aim to “consolidate a prosperous egalitarian system.” So while an updated Constitution may not be sufficient to guarantee democracy, it is necessary to have one. Boric’s amendments are expected to bring new environmental protections and establish new relationships between Indigenous communities and the state, encouraging a document that can allow for more democratic rules and norms to follow.
3. An inclusive political vision promotes fairness and equality
In Robert Dahl’s text, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, he argues that “a key characteristic of a democracy is the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals.”  However, historically, all citizens in Chile have not been treated as equals. Boric plans to change this. This past week, he announced his first cabinet, which includes a female majority and LGBTQ representation. Additionally, Chile’s marriage equality law will go into effect the day before Boric enters the office. A spokesperson for a Chilean LGBTQ rights group said that “the visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile.” Boric’s political vision thus proves to be more inclusive than his predecessors and promotes equality which is key to democracy.
On the other hand, we can see where Boric’s democratic goals may fall short. Firstly, it is uncertain how he will continue to pursue these methods while in office. What if his current democratic ambitions are simply a façade? Additionally, he will have to be wary of extremism, one of the symptoms of democratic erosion. With a strong leftist in office, Kast’s supporters and other conservatives might find it hard to swallow his big changes and resort to extremism. After all, Kast did win 44% of the votes. Furthermore, Chilean courts remain fragmented and Parliament has split down the middle, which would help check any potential populist leader, but it will also make it tougher for a democratic leader to implement any significant change.
Boric’s election thus gives Chileans hope of a democracy that they have yet to experience. However, it is important to note that while democracy can be achieved, it must also be sustained. Mutual toleration, constitutional amendments, and equality are on the right path to do so. Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 10.  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 129.  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 132.  Dahl, R. A. (1971). Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. Yale University Press, 1.