SANTIAGO – Socialist Michelle Bachelet has been swept back into office as Chile's next president, on a platform of narrowing the gap between rich and poor.
"Chile, now, finally, the time has come to carry out the changes," Bachelet told cheering supporters on Sunday in Santiago shortly after her landslide win, joined by her children and mother Angela Jeria.
Bachelet, 62, takes office on March 11 to succeed conservative billionaire President Sebastian Pinera for a term running through 2018.
This is a "historic" moment for Chile, Bachelet said, because "it has decided that this is the time to carry out far-reaching reforms" such as free post-secondary education, raising taxes and adopting a new, more modern constitution.
The president-elect praised thousands of student protesters who in 2011 took to the streets to demand free, quality universal university education.
"Money is not what should be driving education. Education is not merchandise. Dreams are not something that you go out and buy; everyone has the right to have them," Bachelet said.
On carrying out social and economic changes, Bachelet said "it isn't going to be easy. But since when was it ever easy to change the world for the better?"
She served as Chile's first woman president in 2006, and now has a chance to cement her legacy with popular reforms to dismantle more of the political and social legacy of the Pinochet era.
The national electoral board said Bachelet earned 62.10 per cent of the vote against Matthei's 37.80 per cent, with nearly all votes tallied.
Bachelet's contest with Matthei marked the first time in Latin America that a presidential runoff was held between two women.
More than 13 million Chileans were eligible to vote on Sunday, but this year's race marked the first time that voting in a presidential election was voluntary in Chile. Early indications were that turnout was low.
In the first round, which saw Bachelet win 47 per cent of the vote to 25 per cent for Matthei, more than 50 per cent of voters did not bother to cast ballots. Matthei, 60, and Bachelet are both the daughters of Air Force generals and knew each other as schoolgirls. AFP