Chile welcomed the return of its first female president, Michelle Bachelet, in a landslide run-off election victory Sunday.
The Socialist Party candidate is the region’s first reelected female leader.
The widely popular 34th president, who served from 2006 to 2010 and was barred by constitution from running for a second straight term, is to succeed the increasingly unpopular Sebastian Pinera in March after sweeping some 62 percent of second-round votes over her former childhood playmate, Evelyn Matthei, the leader of the center-right Alliance coalition.
Bachelet’s victory over Matthei also carries some symbolism for Chile’s modern history, as the women’s families had been friends until politics pulled them apart.
Matthei’s father served as health minister for the military junta of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the 1980s, whereas Bachelet and her mother had been abused and forced into exile after her father, an air force commander and a key supporter of the overthrown Allende government, was detained by the junta and died in prison while being tortured on charges of treason.
Like South Korea, Chile grew rapidly under dictatorial rule in the ’70s and ’80s. But economic inequality is deepening, despite enviable sustained growth that weathered the recent global economic crisis.
Bachelet returns on the same triumphant platform that she touted for her 2006 victory, vowing to make Chile’s highly privatized education system more accessible, with free higher schooling for all.
The agnostic’s left-wing policies for the traditionally conservative Catholic country also include easing the abortion ban, encouraging a forum on gay marriage, and a “new constitution, born in democracy, which guarantees that in the future the majority will never again be silenced by a minority.”
While some pundits expect the status quo to remain, the former chief of U.N. Women vows to seek growth through equal opportunities for men and women.
“We must continue working with the greater diversity of all Chileans in mind,” she said in her acceptance speech.
“We will consciously carry forward the profound changes that Chile needs, knowing that they transcend a single presidential term. But if we succeed, it is because we believe in the work and in the people.”
By Elaine Ramirez (firstname.lastname@example.org)