South America welcomes 4th socialist head of state
Date: Tuesday, January 17 2006
The Independent -- 16 January 2006
Chileans prepare to welcome first female president
By Jen Ross in Santiago, Chile
Published: 16 January 2006
In what's seen as a cultural breakthrough for the most conservative country in Latin America, a female Socialist - promising to maintain the country's free-market policies - is poised to become the next president of Chile.
"We're making history," said Mercedes Inostroza, on her way out of a Santiago polling station. "I'm so happy to be electing our first female president. She'll represent us, women."
A pediatrician turned politician, Michelle Bachelet is an atheist single mother with three children by two different partners - which makes her an odd choice in a macho and profoundly Catholic country.
She won the first round of voting on 11 December with 46 per cent, but was forced into a runoff because she failed to win an outright majority. Sebastian Piņera, candidate for the rightest alliance, was second with 25 per cent.
Her appointment as the country's first female defence minister, in 2002, was also unusual, as she is a former political exile and the daughter of an Air Force general who was tortured and died after opposing General Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup d'etat. But she was embraced by the Armed Forces, and is seen as having shone in that portfolio.