Michelle Bachelet, of the Partido Socialista (PS) and Nueva Mayoría alliance, has emerged as the winner of yesterday’s presidential run-off race against Evelyn Matthei of the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). A recent poll from Ipsos and the University of Santiago estimated that Bachelet commanded support from 63.7 per cent of the electorate, in comparison to just 36.3 per cent for Matthei. With nearly 92 per cent of ballots counted, Michelle Bachelet currently has 62.32 per cent of the national vote.
With penalties for not voting abolished, turnout for the run-off race, at 5,174,624, was even lower than the first round of the election, thereby depriving Bachelet of a commanding mandate for change. Nonetheless, Bachelet and her new government will now press forward with major education reform together with an increase in corporate tax from 20 to 25 per cent. However, proposed constitutional changes, and a pledge to reform Chile’s infamous binomial electoral system, will prove very difficult for the new president.
Significantly, for the wider region, Sunday’s election was the first ever presidential run-off race in Latin America where both candidates were women. Michelle Bachelet re-joins the growing list of women who have been elected to the presidency across the region: Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina), Mireya Moscoso (Panama) and Violeta Chamorro (Nicaragua).
In a region noted for its culture of machismo, this is an important, albeit gradual, change. A number of Latin American countries have adopted gender quotas to increase women’s participation in politics. In 1991, Argentina was the first country to do so, introducing legislation, which stipulated that women had to comprise at least 30 per cent of the list positions on party ballots for legislative elections. Thirteen other Latin American countries followed suit and adopted similar laws stipulating gender quotas for legislative elections.
Recent research has demonstrated that while gender quotas have notably increased women’s representation in elected office, they have done little to address the marginalization of women in mass political participation across the region. Latin America still has a very long way to go to address long-standing and entrenched gender inequalities.
In Chile, Michelle Bachelet will assume residency of the Palacio de la Moneda next March.
 Rosalia Arteaga also served as interim president of Ecuador for two days in February 1997. Lidia Gueiler Tejada was interim president of Bolivia from 1979 to 1980. Isabel Perón, the first ever woman president in Latin America, assumed office following the death of her husband Juan Domingo Perón in 1974. None of these women were directly elected to the office of the president.
 See Leslie Schwindt-Bayer (2012) ‘Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Participation in Latin America,’ available at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/pdfs/Schwindt-Bayer_SmallGrant_Publish.pdf