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Landslide for Bachelet in Chile presidential vote

SANTIAGO, Chile--Michelle Bachelet's landslide presidential victory was the biggest in eight decades, yet turnout was the lowest since Chile's return to democracy, suggesting she'll lack a clear mandate to push for radical change when she begins her second turn in the office next year.

Bachelet, a moderate socialist, ended her 2006-10 presidency with 84-percent approval ratings despite failing to achieve any major changes. This time, Chilean leftists vow to hold her to her promises, which include a US$15 billion spending program to overhaul education, improve health care and reduce the vast gap between rich and poor.

“The social and political conditions are here and at last the moment has arrived,” Bachelet said in her victory speech after Sunday's election. “If I'm here it's because we believe that a Chile for everyone is necessary. It won't be easy, but when has it been easy to change the world?”

Chile is the world's top copper exporter, and its fast-growing economy, low unemployment and stable democracy are the envy of Latin America. But millions of Chileans who have protested in the streets in recent years say more of the copper wealth should be used to reduce income inequality and fix public schools.

Bachelet won 62 percent of the votes, easily defeating her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei, who got only 37 percent in the worst performance by the right in two decades.

Bachelet needs momentum to overcome a slowing economy and congressional opposition. The general election in November gave her center-left New Majority coalition a slim majority in both houses, and she'll need the votes of center-right lawmakers to accomplish some of her proposals under Chile's complicated, multi-tiered congressional voting system.

For now, she has enough votes in Congress to pass tax increases and will likely get support for educational reform. Changing the Pinochet-era electoral system and constitution, however, require super-majorities.

“She'll achieve some things: The tax reform is in her pocket ... I think student leaders who have been elected to Congress will sign off on educational reform. Bachelet's expectations are high, but things will be achieved,” said Kenneth Bunker, a Chilean political scientist.

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Supporters of Chilean socialist candidate for the New Majority coalition, Michelle Bachelet, celebrate in front of the party's headquarters in Santiago, Chile on Sunday, Dec. 15.


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