Santiago – Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced her candidacy in November presidential elections on Wednesday, saying she would use a second term in office to address the country's enormous income inequality.
Bachelet, 62, returned to Chile following a two-year stint heading the U.N. women's agency in New York. She is widely seen as the center-left opposition's only hope of winning the Nov. 17 vote.
"I have taken the decision to be a candidate," she told cheering supporters in the municipality of El Bosque shortly after her arrival in Chile.
Bachelet, who governed Chile from 2006-2010 before ceding office to conservative President Sebastian Pinera, said that during her first term "there were things we didn't do well and some things remain to be done."
She said that her goal would be ending the inequality that plagues Chile, which has one of the world's largest gaps between rich and poor despite its economic successes.
Chile "is a country tired of abuse of power and Chileans are tired of not being taken into account," she said. "The enormous inequality in Chile is the center of this rage."
"I am not going to offer a program prepared between four walls ... I am going to cross the country to listen to people, to hear their proposals," she said.
Bachelet ended her first presidential term with nearly 80 percent approval ratings. And a recent poll by CEP Estudios Publicos consultancy said if the elections were to be held today she would easily win the presidency with 54 percent of the votes.
Without Bachelet, polls show support for Chile's center-left parties barely reaching 20 percent.
Bachelet will compete in Chile's June 30 party primaries to become the single candidate of Chile's left.
Whoever runs will have to be ready to tackle mounting social demands and frequent protests that already troubled Bachelet during her presidency and have harried Pinera even more. Pinera is the most unpopular president since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 after the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Chile is respected for its fast-growing economy and transparent institutions. The country has continued to grow under Pinera and enjoys a record-low jobless rate. But it also has the worst inequality rate among the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Millions of Chileans have participated in protests demanding a wider distribution of Chile's copper riches, free education and the return of ancestral lands to Mapuche Indians in a southern region where members of Chile's largest indigenous group often clash with timber companies and landowners.
Bachelet's road to prominence has been a long one.
Her father, air force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, died in 1974 following torture in prison after Pinochet's military convicted him of being a traitor for opposing the coup that ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende. Two Chilean military officers were charged last year with the death.
Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975. It's an ordeal that she prefers not to talk about, saying only in her autobiography that she suffered "physical hardships." Using the family's political connections, she went into exile in Australia and the former East Germany.
When she returned to Chile in 1979, she studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics. She began working at an organization that helped children with mental health problems whose parents had been victims of the dictatorship.
At the same time, Bachelet rose through the ranks of the Socialist party and became a key player in the center-left coalition that dominated Chile's government for almost 20 years after Pinochet gave up power.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.