Monday, January 16, 2006

Madame President(s)

Reactionaires of the world will surely be troubled by yesterday's events. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as president of Liberia, thus becoming Africa's first elected female head of state. And Michelle Bachelet was elected as the first woman president, South America's most conservative country.

Both were once political prisoners under criminal regimes. Johnson-Sirleaf was imprisoned during Samuel Doe's reign of terror in the 1980s. Bachelet was thrown in jail along with her family after Augusto Pinochet's military coup because her father was an Air Force general (who was tortured to death in prison). Both are divorced women in conservative, predominantly Christian countries where men have always had a stranglehold on the high echelons of power.

Despite those similarities, the women face vastly different challenges. Johnson-Sirleaf has to rebuild a country destroyed by years of war and undermined by her indicted war criminal warlord predecessor's mafioso-style of leadership. Despite being vastly more qualified, her win over popular soccer player George Weah in the presidential runoff was a surprise to many, but the way she dealt with disgruntled Weah supporters demonstrated she posseses some of the deft political skills she'll need to govern this country where political institutions have been devoid of legitimacy for a quarter century.

Bachelet is the fourth consecutive center-left president of Chile since Pinochet's fascist dictatorship under the weight of public disgust. While Chile has the strongest, most stable economy in Latin America, Bachelet will have to address the growing gap between rich and poor. She also promised to reform Chile's 25-year-old private social security systems to ensure better pensions for retirees, though she has yet to offer specifics.

1 comment:

Frank Partisan said...

Argentina and Peru, may next election cycle, also elect a female.