Bolsonaro suffers losses, center-right makes gains in Brazil local votes

Right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s candidates suffered further defeats on Sunday and the traditional center-right emerged stronger in municipal runoff elections, seen as a measure of where things stand in Brazilian politics ahead of the 2022 presidential election.

Brazil’s largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both elected experienced center-right mayors – incumbent Bruno Cova and returning veteran Eduardo Paes, respectively – as the candidates approved by Bolsonaro were defeated, according to full official results.

The Brazilian left, meanwhile, continued to fight to bounce back from the damaging accusation of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the imprisonment of her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on corruption charges – the events that paved the way for Bolsonaro’s “conservative wave.”

The run-off election “confirmed what we had already seen in the first round of voting (November 15): a defeat for Bolsonaro’s camp,” said political scientist Leonardo Avritzer of the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

“Meanwhile, the left continues to have enormous difficulties.”

For the first time in its history, Lula and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) failed to win a single mayoral race in Brazil’s 26 state capitals.

Traditional parties to the center and right meanwhile consolidated the comeback they made in the first round, including Sao Paulo Mayor Cova’s Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and Rio Mayor Pae’s Democrats (DEM).

Bolsonaro, the politician known as “Tropical Trump”, will for his part need to work to strengthen his position before his expected re-election, analysts said.

“Bolsonaro showed little political capacity as a leader,” said political scientist Flavia Biroli of the University of Brasilia.

“The center-right and the right came out as winners, but it is not the same as the Bolsonaro right,” she told AFP.

Against “hate politics”

Covas and Paes both aimed at Bolsonaro in their winning numbers.

Covas, a 40-year-old cancer survivor tasked with managing one of the world’s largest coronavirus outbreaks, called his victory “science and moderation”.

It was considered a craft jab at Bolsonaro’s polarizing style and controversial handling of Covid-19, which the president has recorded as a “small flu” even though it has killed more than 172,000 people in Brazil, the second highest number of deaths worldwide, after USA.

Covas had to ward off what sometimes seemed like a tough challenge from left-wing activist politician Guilherme Boulos, hailed by progressives as the new face of the Brazilian left.

However, the result was not the end: Covas won 59 percent of the vote in Latin America’s largest city, to 41 percent for Boulos.

The incumbent received warm congratulations from his predecessor and mentor, Sao Paulo State Governor Joao Doria, a top contender to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency.

In Rio, Paes condemned the “hate policy” associated with both Bolsonaro and the presidential candidate, the evangelical pastor and incumbent mayor Marcelo Crivella.

“The results of extremism, hatred and division have been good for no one,” said Paes, former mayor of Rio from 2009 to 2016.

Paes won with 64 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Crivella.

The other runoff candidate backed by Bolsonaro, police reserve captain Wagner Sousa Gomes, also lost in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.

Bolsonaro candidates were directed

The municipal votes, which are mainly Brazil’s mid-term elections, bore the indelible mark of the pandemic.

The rising death toll and the ensuing economic crisis were key issues.

Brazil’s 148 million voters elected mayors and city council in 5,569 municipalities, with runoff in 57 cities.

In other closely-watched contests, another rising left-wing star, Manuela D’Avila of the Communist Party of Brazil, lost to center-right candidate Sebastiao Melo in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

In the northeastern city of Recife, home to a left-wing family fighting two cousins ​​against each other, Joao Campos of the center-left Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) defeated Marilia Arraes of PT.

Bolsonaro, who currently has no political party – but must choose one to stand in 2022 – meanwhile got dismal results for his candidates.

Only two of the 13 mayoral candidates he approved won and nine out of 45 city councilors.