Chile's ex-student leaders march their way to congressional victory

SANTIAGO Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:49am IST

Former Chilean student movement leader Camila Vallejo is seen after casting her ballot during the presidential election in Santiago November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez/Files

Former Chilean student movement leader Camila Vallejo is seen after casting her ballot during the presidential election in Santiago November 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Eliseo Fernandez/Files

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Camila Vallejo, who helped spearhead Chile's student uprising in 2011, leapt from the street protest to the ranks of Congress alongside three other former university leaders on Sunday, underscoring a generational shift in local politics.

The 25-year-old communist shot to international fame as one of the most recognizable faces of a student movement seeking free and improved education in a nation fettered by the worst income distribution among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's 34 member states.

Vallejo's victory is key for presidential front-runner Michelle Bachelet's bid to have her Nueva Mayoria coalition gain a stronger foothold in both houses of Congress.

"We're going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of the La Florida (district in Santiago)," Vallejo said on Twitter.

Bachelet, who held Chile's highest office from 2006 to 2010, was the clear winner in the Andean nation's presidential election on Sunday, although she will have to go through a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory.

The massive student protests of 2011 rocked incumbent President Sebastian Pinera's government and helped shape the 2013 electoral campaign, with Bachelet running on a platform to implement a tax reform to finance an education overhaul.

Independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola, former comrade-in-arms in the student movement, also gained seats in Chile's lower house on Sunday.

Their ascension to power, however, likely will not keep protests from spilling onto the streets next year as some in the new generation of student leaders view them as sellouts.

"I wouldn't vote for Giorgio Jackson ... for Camila Vallejo neither," said Melissa Sepulveda, the new head of the Universidad de Chile's student body (FECh), a position once held by Vallejo.

"The possibility for change isn't in Congress," Sepulveda said in the recent radio interview.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Trott)

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