Maya Fernández Allende, the granddaughter of Chile’s fallen socialist president, Salvador Allende, won her first major political race on Sunday as leftwing parties regained lost ground in municipal elections nationwide.
Millions of citizens voted for the first time after Chile greatly expanded its electorate, although absenteeism was also high.
Fernández, 41, defeated the incumbent mayor, Pedro Sabat of the centre-right National Renovation party, in the Santiago district of Nuñoa. A socialist and a vet by trade, she served on the local council in the district after growing up in Cuba, where her mother Beatriz lived in exile after President Allende was killed during General Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup.
The left's biggest victory was in central Santiago, where Carolina Tohá defeated Pablo Zalaquett of the ultra-conservative Independent Democratic Union. Tohá served as former president Michelle Bachelet's spokeswoman, and her father, Allende's vice-president, died after being jailed and tortured.
Tohá had sided with students protesting for free, quality education in Chile, while Zalaquett ordered police to crack down on their demonstrations.
"I will be a mayor for all," Tohá said in her victory speech. "Everyone will be listened to. No one will be excluded."
For many members of Chile's student protest movement, which burst on to the scene last year with a series of major demonstrations, this was their first chance to vote.
The left also won in the capital's upper-class Providencia district, where the community leader Josefina Errázuriz ended retired colonel Cristián Labbé's 16-year-hold on the mayor's office. Labbé led Pinochet's domestic intelligence agency during the dictatorship and has tried to bring Pinochet's disciples back from the political wilderness.
Centre-right politicians held on to five other major cities, including Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, La Florida, Las Condes and San Bernardo, but they lost southern Concepción, where the mayor was sharply criticised for her handling of the aftermath of an earthquake.
In all, Chileans decided 345 mayor's offices and 2,224 local council seats nationwide.
With more than 90% of the vote counted, the ruling rightwing alliance held 37% of the council seats, compared with 43% for the various parties of the left.
The former president Ricardo Lagos called Sunday's election, the first since Chile added 5 million new voters to the rolls by automatically registering all adults, the end of an era.
By making voter registration automatic, Chile increased its electorate from 8.1m to 13.4m out of a total population of 17m. But with voting no longer mandatory, many stayed home, dismaying those who had hoped that so much social upheaval would lead to bigger changes.
The old electorate had moved increasingly to the right as ever-fewer Chileans bothered to register and vote. After Sebastián Piñera's 2009 presidential win ended 20 years of centre-left rule, his centre-right alliance agreed to expand the electorate only if the left agreed to make voting optional.
Some analysts say the left's concessions were a mistake, noting that wealthier people are more likely to vote even when it's not mandatory. On Sunday night, the turnout appeared to confirm the left's worst fears. In some districts, absenteeism reached 80%.
Piñera called the absenteeism a warning sign for Chile's democracy and pledged that his government will do all it can to increase participation in next November's presidential elections.