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SANTIAGO, Chile – Former President Michelle Bachelet formally launched her campaign for November's presidential election Saturday, saying she would use a second term to reform taxes and education and to fight Chile's huge income inequality.
Bachelet, 62, begins her campaign for the Nov. 17 election as the front-runner in polls after leaving office four years ago with soaring popularity ratings. She was unable to seek immediate re-election because Chile's constitution bans consecutive terms.
But she conceded many issues were left unsolved during her presidency, key among them education reform and the sharp income inequality that has marred the country's economic growth.
"Combatting inequality is what gives us a purpose to be here. It's the fine print that affects millions of consumers who are in debt. It's the salary gap between men and women and the inability of workers to negotiate collectively," the moderate Socialist Party member told a cheering crowd of about 5,000 people at the Caupolican theater in downtown Santiago.
Bachelet promised to push for tax reform so that "those who earn more, contribute more" to fund deep changes to Chile's troubled education system.
"We must guarantee everyone a public education system that integrates them at all levels, ends profit and advances toward universal gratuity," she said. "It's the desire of most Chileans."
Student protests demanding free education marked the final years of her term and boiled over during the administration of her conservative successor, Sebastian Pinera, whose popularity plunged to the lowest level of any Chilean leader since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990.
Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Chile on Thursday to demand free education, showing the continuing strength of the student movement in an election year.
Bachelet's opponent from the conservative governing coalition is likely to be either former Defense Minister Andres Allamand or Laurence Golborne, the former public works minister who led the 2010 rescue of 33 miners trapped deep underground in the Atacama desert.
Bachelet is the daughter of a general tortured to death for opposing Pinochet's 1973 military coup. Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975 and went into exile to Australia and the former East Germany.
When she returned to Chile in 1979, she studied medicine and quickly rose through the ranks of the Socialist Party, becoming a key player in the center-left coalition that dominated Chile's government for almost 20 years after Pinochet lost power.
She spent the last two years heading the U.N. agency for women.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao