November 17, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Michelle Bachelet wins first round of Chile presidential election

Michelle Bachelet, Chile, Socialist Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Michelle Bachelet (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert of Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Sunday won the first round of her country’s presidential elections.

Bachelet received slightly less than 47 percent of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. Her main rival, Evelyn Matthei, came in second with 25 percent of the votes.

Bachelet needed at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off.

The left-leaning Socialist whose father was tortured to death following the 1973 coup that toppled then-President Salvador Allende’s government was Chile’s president from 2006-2010. She and Matthei squared off against seven other candidates.

Bachelet vowed to address long-standing socio-economic inequalities in the South American nation and reform the country’s education system during the campaign. She has also publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Inequality is Chile’s huge scar,” Bachelet told supporters during a campaign rally on Nov. 14 as Reuters reported. “It’s our main obstacle and the stone in our shoe when we really think about becoming a modern country.”

Neighboring Argentina is among the 15 countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in July gave the Chilean government a two month deadline to respond to a same-sex marriage lawsuit the LGBT advocacy group Movement for Homosexual Integration (Movilh) filed last year. The group said last month that two members of outgoing President Sebastián Piñera’s cabinet with whom it met assured them the government has already begun the “process of internal consultations” to respond to the case.

More than 40 Chilean lawmakers have urged Piñera to make a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions a priority before he leaves office early next year.

Bachelet backs efforts to strengthen pro-LGBT laws

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in February 2012 ruled in favor of lesbian Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. The Chilean government last December formally apologized to Atala.

The fatal beating of Daniel Zamudio, who was gay, inside a park in Santiago, the country’s capital, in March 2012 prompted Chilean lawmakers to approve a hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. A court on Oct. 28 sentenced the convicted mastermind of the attack to life in prison.

Bachelet’s platform supports efforts to strengthen the anti-discrimination statute named in honor of Zamudio. She also backs efforts that would extend additional rights to trans Chileans.

Bachelet and Matthei will face each other in a run-off on Dec. 15.

We have won this election and with a ample majority,” Bachelet said on Sunday after the polls closed as the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reported. “We are going to work towards a decisive victory in the second round.”

LGBT rights advocates also celebrated Claudio Arriagada’s election as the first openly gay member of the Chilean Congress.

Arriagada, who was the mayor of the Santiago suburb of La Granja from 1992 to 2012, came out in July. The Bachelet ally who is a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party won is race to represent La Granja in the lower house of the Chilean Congress with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

Movilh President Rolando Jiménez lost in his bid to represent the Santiago suburb of Conchalí in the same legislative chamber.

“When we were founded in 1991 the possibility of an openly gay parliamentarian would not have been part of our dreams,” Movilh said in response to Arriagada’s victory. “Least of which one would not have thought the first would be from the Christian Democrats. And here, after more than 22 years of cultural transformations it has happened.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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