RAY SUAREZ: Thousands partied into the early morning hours in Chile's capital Santiago to celebrate Socialist Michelle Bachelet's victory.
She thanked her cheering supporters outside her campaign headquarters.
MICHELLE BACHELET: (Translated): Who would have thought 20, ten, or even five years ago that Chile would elect a woman as president? (Applause)
MICHELLE BACHELET (Translated): Seemed difficult but it was possible. It was possible because our citizens wanted it that way and because democracy allowed it.
Thank you friends, thank you Chile.
RAY SUAREZ: The 54-year-old Bachelet, a divorced, single mother, won more than 53 percent of the vote heading a center-left coalition in Sunday's runoff election. She beat her conservative challenger, billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, who took 46 percent.
It was Chile's fourth election since dictator General Augusto Pinochet was forced to step down in 1990.
Bachelet is a pediatrician by profession. She was, along with her mother, a political prisoner, arrested and tortured during Pinochet's rule. Her father, an air force general, died in prison after being tortured.
Her political career took off under Chile's current president, Ricardo Lagos. She served as health minister in 2000 and became Chile's first female defense minister in 2002.
Chile is a country of nearly 16 million people, flanked by the Pacific Ocean along 6,400 miles of its west coast and bordered by Argentina to the east and Bolivia and Peru to the north. It's become one of the most politically and economically stable countries in Latin America.
Bachelet campaigned on a promise to maintain the country's free market policies that had have made Chile's economy one of the strongest in the region. She also promised to improve public education and create more jobs.
MICHELLE BACHELET (Translated): I don't want just any type of job. I want them to be decent and dignified jobs with benefits. I do not want people to be fired in December and rehired in March.
RAY SUAREZ: Bachelet calls herself agnostic, and she stands out in a mostly Catholic nation where divorce was only legalized two years ago. President-elect Michelle Bachelet's inauguration is set for March 11.
RAY SUAREZ: And joining us from Santiago is special correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth.
Elizabeth, you were at the Bachelet party headquarters as the results were coming in, set the scene for us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, I was inside at first. The results came earlier than had been expected. The victory for Bachelet was greater than had been anticipated.
And almost immediately as I looked out the windows, thousands of people started to walk on this enormous avenue that was right outside the campaign headquarters on election day -- coming in groups of four, or five, sometimes groups of 20 or 30 with flags and banners, and posters from the past -- old posters from the Allende years -- old pictures, new posters -- dancing, jumping up and down, chants from the past, some of them, some of these people were young.
They must have been their grandparents' chants that they were saying about the united left will never be defeated and that sort of thing. And they were all coming for a very large celebration that night when Michelle Bachelet, the president elect would speak.
And I was really interested about -- there were two things that struck me about the group: One is how young they were. These were people who have no experience, really, of personally, at least not in themselves -- their grandparents or parents might have -- with the problems of the years of the dictatorship and the repression that president-elect Bachelet suffered.
But they were there in droves, many, many people, many young, and her campaign had had a very large registration drive. And they had registered 280,000 young voters. And I think those were some of the people.
I looked for people that were a little older who might have been part of the Allende and the Pinochet experience. And just as I was looking, a man came up to me and he pointed. And he said, right over there, right over there, senora, is where I was tortured." And indeed, there is a very famous torture center just half a block from where we were called London 38, it's a street. And he said, "For 30 years I have been too afraid to partake in politics at all. But I have come all day from a neighborhood quite a long way away to be part of this."
And another gentleman said something similar. He had been exiled for 16 years, so this means a lot to a lot of people.
RAY SUAREZ: Since the results have come in, what does the president-elect have to say about her own victory?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What she said that was first which has been the headlines is, "Did anybody ever dream this would happen, that a woman would be elected president of Chile." Because it is a very socially conservative, even if politically not conservative society.
But after that, she said, "You know I have not had an easy life, but then who has? Violence destroyed what I loved. Because I was the victim of hate, I have consecrated my life to converting that hate into understanding, into tolerance, and why not say it, love." These were the words she said, which people were cheering and yelling and jumping up and down and screaming.
She referred obliquely to the trials. There are many trials currently in the courts against leaders of the secret services, secret intelligence agency from the Pinochet era, and Pinochet himself is under indictment right now in corruption and criminal human rights cases.
And she said, "One can love justice and also be generous. Chile is advancing towards reconciliation."
I asked her today in a press conference, "Generous to whom, what did you mean by that?" And she just said, "Well, we can be generous but we will let the courts go ahead and complete their job."
So I think she believes that she won this election because she worked very hard and got the support of a lot of people young, old; more men voted for her than for her opponent, Sebastian Pinera.
RAY SUAREZ: On election day you visited polling stations. First help me out with this. Men and women vote separately in Chile?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yeah. Man and women vote in separate places. If their polling place is the same place, they separate them by a long way. And this because when women got the vote -- and this was so ironic yesterday, a lot of women, you know, referred to this, because they thought it was so funny -- when women got the vote, men were pressuring them.
And so at some point the government -- women got the vote in the '40s here. At some point the government decided that they just wouldn't let men in to where the women vote. So they voted completely separately.
And I just went to where the women voted and women said really interesting things. One woman said that she was opposed to everything that Michelle Bachelet stood for. She's divorced. She's had a child out of wedlock. This woman was very religious. And she was going to vote for Sebastian Pinera.
Another woman -- another young woman, interestingly, said that - she said, "They are going to tell you this election is about economics and about improving the pension system and all kinds of things," but she said, "This election is about suffering. This election is about the people that suffered. And this election is for the people that suffered during the dictatorship."
At another polling place a man and a woman voted differently. The man voted for Michelle Bachelet because she will be a good organizer because she knows how to organize a house. And the woman voted Pinera because he is a good organizer because he runs many, many businesses. He owns a lot of businesses.
RAY SUAREZ: And was the vanquished Pinera gracious in defeat and did he pledge to work with the new government?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Very gracious. He came immediately, almost immediately to the hotel headquarters where Michelle Bachelet was. And he promised to work with her. He did say at the end, he had said that he was a Christian. Michelle Bachelet is openly agnostic. And she said he did say at the end God bless you all, sort of one newspaper today said it was a way of again expressing the difference between the two.
But as far as I could see in every public display he has been very generous.
RAY SUAREZ: Elizabeth, thanks a lot.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thanks, Ray. Bye.
RAY SUAREZ: For more we go to Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. He is both a Chilean and U.S. citizen, and held several posts during the Clinton administration; and Joy Olsen, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group that promotes democracy and human rights in the region.
Arturo Valenzuela, you've met and talked policy with the newly-elected president; tell us about what she sees as her big challenges.
ARTURO VALENZUELA: Well, she is really an extraordinary person. She combines leadership qualities, but at the same time she is very accessible. The people felt confident in her. They felt like she was somebody who cared about their problems.
She represents continuity, the fourth government of this center-left coalition, the most successful and longest term our government in Chilean history. She represents change; this coalition was able to put up a new face and that's important for the continuity of the coalition. And she also represents reconciliation.
Now her challenge, of course, is she has got only four years. The term for the president was reduced. And the country still has many, many problems.
There are many poor people, and this was one of the major themes of this campaign. She addressed it. And her challenge, of course, is to be able to provide the continuity, the most successful country in Latin America, really in terms of its economic discipline and that kind of thing, but at the same time address the problems that are still left behind.
RAY SUAREZ: Joy Olsen, this new president comes from the same party, she had the blessings of the outgoing president, Ricardo Lagos; that being said, is this an important election for this country?
JOY OLSEN: I think this is a tremendously important election for Chile. First, she is the first woman. Secondly, I think this really represents a stage in Chile, a stage of reconciliation, of dealing with its own past. Bachelet was very clear about, and did not at all downplay her own personal experience with suffering under the Pinochet regime. And I think a lot of people identified with that.
And there's a real spirit of reconciliation that comes in now. I agree with Arturo that this is also a vote for continuity and stability in Chile. But I think that it's a very historic day.
RAY SUAREZ: And what role, Ms. Olsen, would you say that gender played in the race?
I guess any woman politician in a traditionally male-dominated political scene has a choice to make about how much she is going to talk about it.
JOY OLSEN: You know, it's interesting race, I think was an important issue, and I most people thought in a place like Chile that is very conservative socially and religiously that that would be a big negative for her. But it clearly wasn't. Women came out to the polls. Women who have traditionally voted conservatively in Chile in a majority voted for Bachelet in a majority. She also got the majority of the male vote, I understand. So it's interesting that the fact that she is a woman doesn't seem to have hurt her, which is what people would have expected.
RAY SUAREZ: Arturo Valenzuela you talked about how there is still a persistent poverty problem in Chile even as it is called the most stable and economically sound country in the region.
Break apart of the electorate for us; where would Pinera's support have come from, and where did Bachelet's?
ARTURO VALENZUELA: Yeah, well, the coalition, the governing coalition was able to reduce poverty from 40 percent to about 15 percent, a really notable achievement in the region. Now who still voted for Pinera? There is one, of course, hard-core sector that supported the military government. There are more centrists who also saw in Pinera a new face because people were looking for a new face. And he was an attractive kind candidate. And he took a very moderate position in this campaign.
In fact, he comes from a Christian Democratic - that's the centrist party that's within the coalition government -- he comes from a Christian Democratic household himself. He voted against Pinochet in the plebiscite in 1988.
So he is -- he represented a moderate face and attracted some moderate voters that might have otherwise gone for -- for Michelle Bachelet, but she clearly captured the imagination of people. She's very, as I said earlier, accessible. And people want change. And she represents change, ironically, with continuity. And that was the genius of her election.
RAY SUAREZ: Did Sebastian Pinera and the center-right coalition have to disown the past in order to run? We are now about 15 years since the big change in Chile.
ARTURO VALENZUELA: Well, in a way they did. They had to do to a great degree because that past was still an open wound. And by disowning it in many ways they contribute to closing the wound.
Ironically, Pinera may have lost however, some of the core supporters of the Pinochet regime who, we haven't really seen all of their disaggregation of the vote yet, but some of those people are probably not happy that he, in fact, essentially criticized the Pinochet regime and took some distance from it. But it shows how remarkable the transformation of Chile has been over the past 15 years.
It is a country that was highly polarized. It had a brutal military coup in 1973, and through strong leadership, through a successful coalition government has been able to turn the page and to move, I think, forward to a period of greater reconciliation where some of these other issues such as lingering poverty can be addressed with more certainty.
RAY SUAREZ: Joy Olsen, let's talk a little bit about where things stand with reconciling with that past. Is the former president, Augusto Pinochet, under active trial right now? Is he in the dock?
JOY OLSEN: Yes, there is a case pending against him. There are other cases as well. What I expect under this government is that -- is that those cases will proceed through the judicial process, and that that process will move forward as normal. I don't see that as a political issue, really.
I think that the significance on reconciliation when it comes to Bachelet and in her candidacy is the degree to which people are able to come out and be public about the pain that they've suffered, and to begin, you know her history is Chile's history -- to really begin to come to terms with the human rights issues and the tragedy that occurred in that country over a number of years.
RAY SUAREZ: Now Professor Valenzuela, when she calls herself a Socialist, when her party calls itself the Socialist Party, does it mean the same thing in a Chilean context as it would when Evo Morales, who was just elected in Bolivia, says, "I'm a socialist," or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, says, "I'm a socialist?"
ARTURO VALENZUELA: No, I don't think so. We need to remember that the Chilean Socialist, the current president participated in the government of President Allende before -- come from a Socialist, Marxist root.
But the wrenching experience of dictatorship led them to change their ideology; today you would characterize them as Social Democrats. They see the importance of free markets, of stable economic policy, of engaging with globalization and with the world. She will continue that practice. In that sense she represents the other left in Latin America, a Social Democratic left.
Whereas Chavez and Morales, Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, are really people who might be called populist left. And there is a different stripe. And the latter left, the populist left is more stridently anti-American. They want to have more intervention on the part of the state.
That doesn't mean that the Chilean Socialists haven't used the state very effectively. They don't believe in a state that is inconsequential. They believe in strong, effective state action. But they also believe in free markets and in economic discipline.
RAY SUAREZ: So Joy Olsen, that being said, is this an election that would be welcome at the State Department and in the Oval Office?
JOY OLSEN: I don't think this election would be unwelcome. I think that -- I think that the administration does see a difference between different sectors of the left in Latin America. I think that the administration needs to -- how would you say, well, allow the elections to take place that will take place within the region.
I think that, you know, Venezuela's government, Bolivia's government, while they are a different stripe of the left and more strident than what we see now in Chile, they are the governments that those countries have elected. And it's going to be important for them to be able to govern as they see fit.
But I do agree with Arturo that there are different -- there are different -- the spectrum in Latin America of the left is quite wide. And Bachelet would certainly not be in exactly the same category as Chavez, for example.
RAY SUAREZ: So it would be a mistake to over-read this result as part of a continent-wide political shift or anything like that?
JOY OLSEN: No, I think that there has been a political shift toward the left within Latin America. I just think that the left is a broad definition. I mean, one thing that I think this election does show is that public discourse within Chile has moved to the left. And I think that's reflected in her election.
I also think another thing that Elizabeth mentioned here about this election that is interesting is the bringing out of the youth vote. There is also a generational change and shift taking place here in Chile, but in other parts of Latin America as well. And that's going to be reflected in electoral politics in coming years.
RAY SUAREZ: Joy Olsen, Arturo Valenzuela, thank you both.
JOY OLSEN: Thank you.