Chile's conservative opposition collected a string of surprise wins in municipal elections across the country Sunday, delivering a blow to left-leaning President Michele Bachelet as her party heads into next year's presidential race.
With 73 percent of ballots counted late Sunday, four opposition parties were winning about 40 percent of mayoral votes cast across the country and picking up mayors in some of Chile's largest cities, including the capital of Santiago and Concepcion. Bachelet's center-left coalition was winning about 38 percent.
The tally was reversed in separate votes for city councils, as Bachelet's coalition led with 44 percent of votes to 35 percent for her opponents. A host of smaller parties picked up the difference in both contests.
Chile's election authority declares winners in individual elections but also pools the votes together to tally each party's support nationwide, a popular barometer of political strength.
Bachelet called her coalition's success in council races proof that it is "the nation's primary political force." But she also urged it to unite and work harder.
"We have to listen to the voice of the people and give our political action a new dynamic," she said in a televised address.
Opposition mayors and lawmakers called the results a warning to Bachelet's government that their conservative alliance will retake the presidency next year.
"People have voted for change," said Pablo Zalaquet, the newly elected mayor of Santiago.
Four years ago, when Bachelet was defense minister, her coalition won 45 percent of mayoral votes and 47 percent of city council votes.