BRASILIA – Candidates supported by right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro fared poorly in Brazil’s nationwide municipal elections, while the party of popular former head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva saw its standing as standard-bearer of the left challenged by an upstart formation.
Facing his first electoral test since taking office in 2019, the 65-year-old army reservist campaigned for 13 mayoral hopefuls ahead of Sunday’s balloting in 5,569 cities and towns.
Nine of the Bolsonaro-backed candidates lost outright and two others advanced to the Nov. 29 second round. The only victories came in a pair of medium-sized cities with little weight in national politics: Ipatinga, Minas Gerais state; and Parnaiba, Piaui.
The president’s son Carlos Bolsonaro won re-election to a seat on the Rio de Janeiro city council, though with 36,000 fewer votes than he got in 2016.
In Sao Paulo, the most-populous city in Latin America, rightist Celso Russomanno finished fourth Sunday with just 10.50% of the vote.
Bolsonaro-endorsed Bruno Engler’s challenge to the centrist mayor of Belo Horizonte, Alexandre Kalil, fell flat, as the incumbent won another term with more than 63% of the vote in the capital of Minas Gerais.
An ally of the president, evangelical bishop Marcello Crivella, is at risk of losing the mayor’s office in Rio de Janeiro after being forced into a runoff with center-right candidate Eduardo Paes, who ended his 2009-2017 tenure running the city under a cloud amid corruption allegations.
“The anti-political wave that elected Bolsonaro in 2018 has lost force,” Claudio Couto, a political analyst with the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
Last week, Bolsonaro sought to mobilize his most devoted supporters by tossing off provocative remarks during what was supposed to be an event promoting tourism.
Brazil, the president said, needed to stop being a “country of maricas (sissies)” with regard to COVID-19, which has killed more than 166,000 people in the giant South American nation – only the United States has suffered more deaths – and infected 5.29 million people.
By using the word “marica,” traditionally a pejorative term for gay, Bolsonaro took yet another swipe at the Brazilian LGBT community while continuing to downplay the pandemic.
The president went on social media late Sunday to offer his take on the election results.
“The left suffered a historic defeat in these elections, a clear signal that the conservative wave of 2018 came to stay,” he wrote.
But according to Claudio Couto, that “conservative wave” has shifted from the far right to center-right and Sunday’s balloting weakened Bolsonaro as he prepares to seek a second term in 2022.
The main beneficiaries of the trend are the Democrats, led by the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Rodrigo Maia, and the PSDB, whose most prominent figure is Sao Paulo state Gov. Joao Doria, who has clashed repeatedly with Bolsonaro over the handling of the coronavirus.
While Bolsonaro’s claim that the Brazilian left lost badly on Sunday doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, voters were not kind to Lula’s Workers Party (PT).
For the first time since 1985, the PT failed to win the mayor’s office in any of the 26 state capitals and its candidates qualified for the second round only in Recife, Pernambuco, and Vitoria, Espiritu Santo.
The PT’s biggest setback came in Sao Paulo, where Lula’s hand-picked candidate, Jilmar Tatto, garnered a mere 8.6% of the vote, while homeless movement activist Guilherme Boulos advanced to a runoff against PSDB incumbent Bruno Covas.
Boulos ran under the banner of the PSOL, a party founded 16 years ago by four lawmakers expelled from the PT for opposing then-President Lula’s plan to overhaul the pension system.
The PSOL grew as the PT became embroiled in scandal and was further boosted in 2016 when Congress ousted Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor and protege, on constitutionally dubious grounds.
Efforts to unite the left for the municipal elections came to nothing after the PT leader, congresswoman Gleisi Hoffmann, said that her party would only take part in a coalition as the senior partner.
Even after polls showed Tatto with no chance of winning in Sao Paulo, the PT ignored appeals from the PSOL to back Boulos, though Lula said on Monday that he and his party will support hopefuls from other left parties in the second round.
Lula said that he will be with “the comrades from other parties who presented excellent results waging a good fight, without aggression and with respect for our PT.”