SANTIAGO, Chile - Their history is the history of Chile. Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei were childhood friends whose fathers became top generals on opposite sides of the country's deep political divide.
Bachelet's father supported socialist President Salvador Allende until the 1973 coup ended one of Latin America's oldest democracies. Matthei's father ran the military school where Gen. Alberto Bachelet was tortured to death for refusing to line up behind dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Their daughters somehow remained cordial over the years as they rose through the ranks of their political parties on the left and the right. But now they're campaigning against each other face to face for the Nov. 17 presidential election.
"There's an inevitable return to the past," said Esteban Valenzuela, a political analyst at Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago. "It's a historic dispute between the daughters of a victim of the dictatorship and an active member of the military junta."
Only months ago, neither seemed to want this.
Bachelet, who served as Chile's first female president from 2006 to 2010, was happily running the U.N.'s agency for women in New York until she resigned in March, when it had become obvious that the center-left coalition couldn't settle on anyone else popular enough to win back the presidency.
Matthei was running President Sebastian Pinera's labor and social security ministry and, at 59, had her sights on retirement. That changed earlier this month, when the center-right alliance threatened to unravel after its presidential candidate shocked the country by quitting, citing depression, only weeks after winning the primary. Pinera backed Matthei as the right's best remaining hope for stopping Bachelet's return.
Polls have suggested that Bachelet, a 61-year-old former pediatrician and socialist with a maternal touch, is unstoppable. Support for Matthei has yet to be measured.
Both women inherited their fathers' sense of duty and commitment, ignoring gender barriers as they rose through Chile's male-dominated politics. The election is Chile's first presidential race featuring women representing the major coalitions.
Since the country's return to democracy in 1990, both women have sought to avoid using their shared past against each other.