The streets of Santiago exploded in celebration Sunday after far-right lawyer José Antonio Kast conceded a polarised presidential election run-off to his leftist rival Gabriel Boric, congratulating the new "president-elect" on Twitter.
With 92 percent of votes counted, Boric, 35, led with more than 55 percent of ballots to Kast's 44 percent, a much larger margin than anticipated.
"I just talked to @gabrielboric and I congratulated him on his great triumph. From today on, he is the president-elect of Chile and he deserves all our respect and constructive cooperation. Chile always comes first," tweeted Kast.
Chileans took to Santiago's streets after the concession, hooting their approval, brandishing pro-Boric placards, waving the multi-colored LGBTQ flag, and shouting: "Viva Chile!"
Boric had campaigned on the promise of installing a "social welfare" state, increasing taxes and social spending in a country with one of the world's largest gaps between rich and poor.
Polls closed officially at 6pm local time after 10 hours of voting in 35 degree Celsius (95 degree Fahrenheit) heat.
The new president will face the difficult task of healing a society reeling from a polarising campaign replete with antagonistic attacks and fake news onslaughts.
For a country that has voted centrist since the democratic ousting of brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet 31 years ago, it was a stark choice between two political outsiders.
Many were put off about the socially and fiscally conservative policies of Kast – an apologist for Pinochet – who is anti-same-sex marriage and abortion, and a proponent of cutting taxes and social spending.
Others feared Boric's political alliance with the Communist Party, which many in Chile equate with the failure of Venezuela, from where it hosts many migrants widely blamed for a rise in crime.
After casting his ballot, Boric reiterated his plans for "a more humane Chile, a more dignified Chile, a more egalitarian Chile."
"We have hope, we believe that we will enter another stage in Chile, a stage where we can test the concept of the welfare state," Boric-backer Sebastian Vera, a 35-year-old history teacher, told AFP.
Kast had edged out six other contenders in the first presidential election round in November to take the top spot, with 27.9 percent of the vote.
Boric came second, with 25.8 percent.
Both candidates softened their policy proposals in a bid to appeal to Chileans left without an obvious candidate when they split the centrist vote in the first round, leaving only the two antipodes.
Both men represent parties that have never been in government.
There will be 'noise'
Chile is going through profound change after voting overwhelmingly last year in favor of drawing up a new constitution to replace the one enacted in the Pinochet years.
The 2020 referendum was in response to an anti-inequality social uprising in 2019 that left dozens dead.
The drafting process, in the hands of a largely left-leaning body elected in May, must yield a constitution for approval next year, on the new president's watch.
President Sebastián Piñera, who leaves office with a low approval rating, said Sunday the country was living in "an environment of excessive polarisation, confrontation, disputes," and urged his successor – whoever it would be – to never forget that "he will be the president of all Chileans, and not just those who support him."
by Mariëtte Le Roux, AFP