Paraguay’s ruling conservative party lost the mayor’s office in the capital Asunción on Sunday in a surprise midterm setback for President Horacio Cartes. Popular TV presenter Mario Ferreiro defeated incumbent Arnaldo Samaniego of the president’s Colorado party, 50.99% to 40.56%, according to official results with all ballots counted.
“I want to thank President @Horacio_Cartes for the phone call he made 15 minutes ago congratulating me for the victory in Asuncion. #Democracia,” Ferreiro posted on Twitter Monday night.
The Colorados had controlled Asunción for 15 years, and polls had given Samaniego a slight lead.
Ferreiro ran for the opposition Revolutionary Febrerista Party, with the backing of a broad centre-left coalition, the Together We Can alliance, a reincarnation of the Patriotic Alliance for Change that brought ex-president Fernando Lugo to power in 2008, eventually leading to his 2012 impeachment by Congress, a move highly criticized by other Latin American countries.
The local elections are seen as a midterm test for Cartes who took office two years ago and whose term ends in 2018. The mayoral race in the capital was the key contest as Paraguayans elected 250 mayors and more than 2,500 town councilors nationwide.
These were the country’s 10th elections since dictator Alfredo Stroessner was ousted in 1989 after 35 years in power.
Ferreiro’s victory sees a political shift in the Paraguayan capital that could signal a wider call to change throughout the country.
The ruling Colorado Party has been the subject of intense criticism over its increasingly unpopular conservative policies, with recent protests over the lack of government support for public institutions.