Chile elects first female leader
Former political prisoner's victory adds to continent's shift to left
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SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- Chilean voters have elected their first female president, one-time political prisoner and socialist Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet, who has also been a doctor and serves as defense minister for the outgoing government of President Ricardo Lagos, defeated billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera in a runoff Sunday.
With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, she had 53.5 percent of the vote to Pinera's 46.5 percent.
"I want our government to be remembered as the government by everyone and for everyone," she said.
Airline and broadcasting tycoon Pinera conceded defeat as results showed Bachelet with a solid lead and he thanked Bachelet for "her triumph today."
But the man who studied economics at Harvard vowed the fight would go on.
"We will continue to be a firm and constructive opposition."
Bachelet spent five years in exile following the 1973 coup that bought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.
Her father, an air force general, was tortured and killed after the U.S.-backed coup, and Bachelet herself was tortured before being sent into exile in Australia.
"What I want, and have and will always work for, is to build a society in which what happened to me and so many Chileans can never be repeated," she said in a December campaign appearance.
Bachelet completed her training as a pediatrician in East Germany and served as health minister in Chile's center-left government before becoming defense minister.
The new president is an agnostic single mother in a male-dominated, overwhelmingly Catholic society where divorce was legalized less than a year ago.
"To have a woman president shows that we are a freer, more just, more diverse, more prosperous and more modern Chile," Lagos said.
In Washington, the White House congratulated Bachelet and praised Chilean voters "for their strong commitment to democracy."
"We have an excellent, long-standing relationship with Chile and look forward to working with the new president and her team," White House spokesman David Almacy said.
Bachelet's victory adds to a leftward shift in Latin American politics.
Leftists hold presidential power in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales -- a former coca farmer and union leader who promises to nationalize the country's natural gas industry -- is slated to take office January 22. (Full story)
Bachelet is scheduled to take office March 11.
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