Bachelet: from torture victim to two-time Chile president

Bachelet: from torture victim to two-time Chile president

SANTIAGO, Chile - Michelle Bachelet, the winner of Chile's presidential runoff Sunday, years ago became her country's first female president and now has a chance to cement her legacy with a second term.

The socialist, agnostic pediatrician has been on a dramatic rollercoaster ride of a life that has seen her tortured in her own country, only to come back to lead it.

She became Chile's first female president in 2006, and she had a stunning 84 per cent approval rating when she left office in 2010.

Bachelet, 62, went on to lead UN Women. But she came home to Chile this year saying "we knew there were things still to be done."

On Sunday, she trounced conservative Evelyn Matthei, 60, by earning 62.40 per cent of the vote against her rival's 37.50 per cent, the national electoral board said with 81.05 per cent of votes tallied.

That gives her the kind of popular mandate she wanted to tackle her long list of reform goals: raise taxes, offer free postsecondary education and legalise abortion.

Socialist Bachelet and her "New Majority" leftist alliance want to overhaul the government structure left in place by the 1973-1990 military regime led by Augusto Pinochet, a legacy that oddly is still the rulebook for modern, democratic Chile.

"We just love her because she is trustworthy, and because of her life story," said supporter Veronica Ramirez after Bachelet's latest win.

Two generals, different paths

Bachelet was born in September 1951 in Santiago. Her father Alberto was an air force officer, and her mother Angela was an archeologist.

When she was young, her father was stationed at Cerro Moreno air base in far northern Chile, where among the neighbours was air force officer Fernando Matthei and his young daughter Evelyn.

Bachelet and Matthei, then aged six and four, sometimes played together.

While the two girls weren't great friends or in the same class, growing up on a military base instilled in both of them a sense of order, duty and a love of learning.

Bachelet joined the Socialist Youth as a teenager and studied medicine, while her father rose to the rank of general and became a close adviser to elected socialist president Salvador Allende.

When right-wing officers launched a military coup in September 1973 that killed Allende, Alberto Bachelet was on the list of suspects.

The general was imprisoned at a military school and tortured, and died from his wounds six months after being released. The school commandant was Fernando Matthei.

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