Sao Paulo, Rio on the way as Brazilians vote in local elections

Brazil’s largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, began electing their next mayors on Sunday as the country held municipal rounds, the final votes before right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is up for re-election in 2022.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital, centrist incumbent Bruno Covas faces left-wing challenger Guilherme Boulos, a leader of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST).

Boulos, 38, who runs for the newly formed Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), goes to the polls with about 10 points.

But he has speed: he came from behind in the first round on November 15 to beat both Bolsonaro’s candidate and a left-wing rival from the more established Labor Party (PT).

Young and charismatic, he is called the new face of the Brazilian left, which is still losing charges against President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the imprisonment of ex-president and PT founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on corruption charges.

The round took a turn two days before the vote when Boulos announced that he had tested positive for the new coronavirus, which forced the suspension of the candidates’ final debate.

Covas, a cancer survivor, meanwhile has a strong supporter of Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, his predecessor and mentor, a top contender to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency.

In June, Covas was also diagnosed with coronavirus.

The virus has indelibly marked the local elections in the giant country with 212 million people.

Voting was postponed by six weeks due to the pandemic, with the period between the first and second rounds reduced from four weeks to two.

The authorities urge voters to bring their own pens, respect social distance guidelines and disinfect their hands several times.

Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus as a “small flu”, is facing criticism for his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 172,000 people in Brazil – the second highest number of deaths in the world after the United States.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second city, opinion polls show that incumbent Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical pastor and Bolsonaro ally, will lose in a landslide against ex-mayor Eduardo Paes of the traditional right-wing Democratic Party (DEM).

Other races to watch include the northeastern city of Recife – the scene of a family feud on the left between cousins ​​Joao Campos of the center-left Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and Marilia Arraes of PT – and the southern city of Porto Alegre.

There, another rising left-wing star, Manuela D’Avila from the Communist Party of Brazil, faces centrist candidate Sebastiao Melo in a city rocked by violent protests after the first-round vote after two white security guards killed a black customer at a grocery store.

A total of 57 cities in Brazil hold presidencies.

Results are expected from around 0100 GMT on Monday.