Former President Bachelet wins a new term in Chile

By

Published:

 

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former President Michelle Bachelet was elected to a new term as Chile's leader in a landslide victory Sunday, becoming the first woman to be re-elected chief executive in the nation's history.

With 90 percent of votes counted, she led her conservative opponent, former Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei, 62.3 percent to 37.7 percent.

Representing the New Majority coalition of parties, the 62-year old pediatrician leveraged her high standing with Chileans during and after her first four-year term, which ended in 2010, to coast to victory.

Bachelet was riding high in recent polls, and to many, her victory was a foregone conclusion. Even her opponent, who served in the administration of outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, admitted in the campaign's closing days that a victory would amount to a "miracle."

Matthei conceded victory at 7 p.m., barely an hour after the polls closed.

"I voted for Bachelet because she was the best candidate, she did a good job the first time around, and I'm sure she will run a good government," Osvaldo Molina, a 34-year-old computer technician, said after voting Sunday morning in the San Miguel barrio of the capital, Santiago.

Bachelet promised during the campaign to rewrite the constitution, reform the tax code and overhaul the education system. She also promised to give indigenous citizens more say. Her proposed constitutional changes would do away with an anti-terrorism law that gives authorities the power to arbitrarily detain suspects for three days.

Voters didn't give Matthei much credit for the solid performance of the Chilean economy during the presidency of fellow Alliance party member Pinera, said Patricio Navia, a political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago.

"Chileans did not vote for radical reform," Navia said. "They have high expectations that Bachelet will deliver better government services, free education for all and better pensions. They don't care quite as much about how she will do it (but) have high expectations that she will deliver, soon."

The election pitted against each other two former childhood friends whose fathers were air force generals on different sides of the bloody 1973 coup that overthrew leftist President Salvador Allende. Bachelet and her father, Alberto, were tortured by the junta that seized power, while Matthei's father, Fernando, became part of the dictatorship that ruled until democracy was restored in 1990.