Michelle Bachelet sworn in as Chile's president

Socialist Michelle Bachelet took the oath of office as president of Chile Tuesday, March 11, 2014, returning to power after four years with a reform agenda to reduce social disparities in this prosperous South American country. -- PHOTO: AFP
Socialist Michelle Bachelet took the oath of office as president of Chile Tuesday, March 11, 2014, returning to power after four years with a reform agenda to reduce social disparities in this prosperous South American country. -- PHOTO: AFP

VALPARAïSO, Chile - Socialist Michelle Bachelet took the oath of office as president of Chile Tuesday, returning to power after four years with a reform agenda to reduce social disparities in this prosperous South American country.

"Yes, I promise," she said as she was sworn in by the new Senate president, Isabel Allende, in a solemn ceremony at Chile's Congress, AFP reported.

She takes over from billionaire investor Sebastian Pinera, who oversaw economic growth averaging 5.7 percent in Latin America's wealthiest nation.

A former president from 2006 to 2010, Ms Bachelet was constitutionally banned from standing for consecutive terms. But, she won December's election - on pledges to provide free education for all - with the biggest majority since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990 and holds a majority in both chambers of Congress, Bloomberg reported.

Ms Bachelet was sworn in by Isabel Allende, the daughter of former President Salvador Allende, who died in the military coup of 1973. Isabel Allende is now president of the Senate.

The new president has promised US$15.1 (S$18 billion) billion in extra spending after three years of protests over the quality of education pushed Mr Pinera's popularity to a record low. During her first term in office, Ms Bachelet poured money into Chile's sovereign wealth fund and then used the money to ease the impact of the global recession in 2008. She ended the period with an approval rating of 78 per cent, the highest of any president since the return of democracy, according to Santiago- based polling company CEP.

The swearing in ceremony was attended by the presidents of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico, and United States Vice President Joe Biden.

Analysts believe she can easily find the votes for education reform, but say overcoming hurdles to changing the constitution will be much tougher.

Internally, Ms Bachelet also must deal with political differences that are already evident in the broad coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists and Communists that support her.  She is inheriting an economy that is losing steam after some five years at a five percent growth rate. Growth next year is forecast at between 3.75 and 4.75 per cent.

One of her first challenges, therefore, will be to dampen the soaring expectations for quick changes, with Asian demands for Chile’s copper diminishing.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer and its main client is China, whose appetite for the substance has ebbed.

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