Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Equality tops Bachelet's agenda

GROUNDBREAKING Having broken through the glass ceiling, Chile's first woman president vowed to form a Cabinet with equal female representation


Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, right, listens to President-elect Michelle Bachelet at her house in Santiago on Monday before a private meeting.


Fresh from her election as Chile's first woman president, Michelle Bachelet vowed on Monday to root out the country's entrenched social inequality, and said she would start by naming a Cabinet composed equally of women and men.

One day after prevailing in Chile's groundbreaking election, Bachelet told reporters that her fledgling government would be made up of the country's "best and brightest," fully tapping a broad spectrum of Chile's varied society.

"The task ahead of us is so beautiful -- to create a country which is more prosperous, more just, a country of greater solidarity, a country of and for the people," said Bachelet, who takes office on March 11.

Demonstrating she will not tolerate machismo, Bachelet took a male journalist to task for asking how she would handle the pressure of her new job without a "boyfriend or tenderness."

"I would have loved it if a man had been in my place, you would have asked him the same thing," she said. "So the challenge is that in the future you ask the same type of question to men."

A former minister of health and later defense minister, Bachelet, 54, garnered 53.5 percent of the vote in Sunday's balloting -- seven points ahead of rival Sebastian Pinera -- and won in all but one of the country's 13 regions.

Her victory extends the rule of the center-left coalition that has governed the country since the 1990 collapse of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, and came by a larger margin than anticipated.

An agnostic single mother of three, she was not an obvious choice for leadership in this socially conservative Roman Catholic country. But the economic successes of the current administration evidently played a significant role in Bachelet's election.

Her family's suffering during the Pinochet regime, during which she was tortured, also won Bachelet sympathy from many people in a country still scarred by the 17-year dictatorship.

Pinera congratulated Bachelet, who he said symbolizes "the struggle of millions of women to reach the position they deserve."

Chile's current president, Ricardo Lagos, hailed on Sunday what he termed "a historic triumph." Bachelet is widely expected to continue the policies he initiated.

"Today we are a new Chile. Having a woman as president demonstrates this. We are a Chile that is more free, more diverse, more just, more prosperous, more modern," he said in an address from the presidential palace.

Leaders from around the world on Monday also hailed Bachelet's election, and expressed a desire to work with her once she takes office on March 11.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took office as Germany's first female leader in November, congratulated Bachelet in a telegram.

"I congratulate you most warmly on your election as president," Merkel said.

"I wish you strength, confidence and success," she said.

Also see story:
Chile's cultural revolution

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