Michelle Bachelet was elected the first woman president of Chile this Sunday, beating out right-wing opponent Sebastian Pinera by a handy 7 percent. The vote was a runoff between Bachelet and Pinera after Bachelet won only 46 percent in the multiple-candidate December 11 election, failing to get the 50 percent necessary for victory.
Bachelet, an agnostic and a single mother, gained popularity as minister of health in 2000, when she revamped Chile’s moribund public health system. She instituted 24-hour health care to cut waiting times that had previously been as long as three months. In 2002, she was appointed Chile’s Defense Minister, the first woman in Latin America to hold the post.
A charismatic speaker, Bachelet campaigned on a leftist platform and spoke out for women’s rights. “It is unjust that [women] have less access to education and that, in some cases, our social legislation doesn’t address even our basic necessities,” she said, to explosive applause. “Women have been tossed aside for many years in this countryÑand it’s time for that to change.” As president, Bachelet plans to focus on improving public education, health services, and labor laws. She began on Monday to build her Cabinet Ð half of which, she promises, will consist of women.