Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Monday, 16 January 2006

The woman taking Chile's top job

Michelle Bachelet waves to supporters after her presidential victory
Bachelet called on the country to work together to solve its problems
Chile's first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, is breaking many political traditions.

Not only is she a woman, but she calls herself a socialist and she is a single parent with a 12-year-old daughter and two other grown children.

Giving a victory speech to cheering supporters in Santiago, Ms Bachelet said: "Who would have thought, just five years ago, that Chile would have a woman president?"

Outgoing President Ricardo Lagos has hailed her election as an "historic triumph".

Chilean society is often portrayed as ultra-conservative, dominated by men and the Roman Catholic Church.

Only 4% of senators are women and divorce was only introduced last year.

But Ms Bachelet believes this is only part of the picture and Chile is changing - as reflected by her election victory.

"We have a mature, democratic society that believes men and women can hold responsibility," she said.

There were two men standing between Ms Bachelet and the presidential palace.

Joaquin Lavin, a Conservative candidate who narrowly lost the last presidential election, was knocked out in the first round on 11 December.

Billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, who entered the race in May after a split in the Conservative Alliance, conceded defeat after Ms Bachelet took more than 53% of the poll.

'Everyone should benefit'

The 54-year-old became the sole candidate for the ruling centre-left coalition after another woman, Soledad Alvear, dropped out of the contest in late May.

The coalition, known as Concertacion, has held power since the return of democracy in 1990 and Ms Bachelet says she will carry on the tradition of maintaining strong economic growth - but has also pledged change.

Ms Bachelet, who will be inaugurated in March, is keen to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

Chile is often described as the economic miracle of Latin America and the economy is believed to have expanded by more than 5% in 2005.

"We have to make sure that everybody in this country will have the benefits of this growth," she said.

Socialist roots

Michelle Bachelet will be the fourth president from the Concertacion and arguably the most radical.

She was politicised by the military coup of September 1973 that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

I am a socialist, but I wear many hats. I was not a minister of the socialists, I was a minister of all the Chileans. I will be president for all the Chileans
Michelle Bachelet
Her father was a general in the Air Force who was opposed to the military government and died in prison.

She worked undercover for the Socialist Youth and she was held for weeks with her mother, Angelica, in torture and detention centres before being allowed to flee the country in 1975.

Like outgoing President Lagos, Ms Bachelet is a member of the Chilean Socialist Party, but she seems more willing to discuss her socialist roots.

"I would say I am a socialist, of course, but I wear many hats," she said.

"I was not a minister of the socialists, I was a minister of all the Chileans. I will be president for all the Chileans."

Trained as a doctor, she has been a public figure for just five years after Mr Lagos appointed her to the health portfolio and then defence.

Under Chilean law, he had to stand aside after serving one term, giving Ms Bachelet her chance.

Many political analysts say it is her refreshing warmth and personality that has attracted Chilean voters and put her at the top of every major opinion poll.

Pinochet question

She becomes more serious when she discusses 90-year-old General Pinochet.

Sebastian Pinera
Pinera's defeat means the right must do some hard thinking
He is under house arrest, and has been fighting legal battles for years.

He has lost his immunity from prosecution and faces charges of tax fraud and other crimes related to secret multi-million dollar bank accounts, many of them with the Washington-based Riggs Bank

Ms Bachelet says the general is now irrelevant as a political actor.

However, under Chilean protocol he would be entitled to a state funeral as a former president. There is a strong chance he could die while she is running the country.

"I would respect all the laws and decrees, but frankly I would say it would be very violent for the Chilean conscience to give a state funeral to someone who has been involved, not only in human rights violation processes, but also a [scandal] like the Riggs Bank."

Ms Bachelet is open about her personal life.

"I am a mother of three. Right now, I don't have a partner."

She says it was not a problem when she was a minister and it should not be an issue as president.

However, that does not mean she wants to stay single.

"I hope there will come a time when I have time for my children, for my family, and if a boyfriend, better, but otherwise I can live."

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