President Jair Bolsonaro talks to the press after voting during the municipal elections at Vila Militar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 29 2020. Picture: LUIS ALVAREGA/GETTY IMAGES
President Jair Bolsonaro talks to the press after voting during the municipal elections at Vila Militar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 29 2020. Picture: LUIS ALVAREGA/GETTY IMAGES

Brazil’s two biggest cities will be governed by centrist mayors who defeated President Jair Bolsonaro’s candidates in nationwide municipal elections, consolidating the return of more moderate political actors after a conservative wave that swept the country two years ago.

Brazilians went to the polls on Sunday to choose mayors for Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and 55 of the country’s 5,500 municipalities whose first-round results in the November 15 vote had been inconclusive. Polling stations opened at 7am and closed at 5pm local time.

Half way into the Bolsonaro’s administration, the vote provided one of the most comprehensible snapshots of the Brazilian political landscape in the run-up to presidential elections in 2022. It had some curious takeaways: A popular president who has failed to create his own political party — and has no political affiliation — was not only unable to help those he endorsed, but in some cases might have contributed to their downfall.

“Bolsonaro emerges weakened and will have to learn that you can’t do politics without a party,” said Marco Teixeira, a professor of political sciences at Getulio Vargas Foundation, a think-tank and business school in Sao Paulo. “He did not negotiate nor did he build alliances, he picked candidates according to his personal preferences with disastrous results for himself.”

Losing capitals

In Sao Paulo, incumbent mayor Bruno Covas won against leftist Guilherme Boulos, who ran for president in 2018 with the Socialism and Liberty Party. Covas was supported by Sao Paulo governor Joao Doria, a key Bolsonaro opponent who defied the president’s push to reopen the economy at all costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Rio de Janeiro, former mayor Eduardo Paes, who led the city during the Olympic Games in 2016, defeated incumbent Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical leader who sought re-election with Bolsonaro’s support. Speaking after the results were announced, Paes said his win along with that of Covas in Sao Paulo were “a victory” for Brazilian politics.

“We spent the past few years radicalising Brazil’s politics,” he told reporters and supporters in Rio de Janeiro. “That didn’t do any good neither to Rio residents nor to Brazilians.”

Speaking after voting on Sunday, the president downplayed his efforts to support candidates during the election. “I discretely allowed some people to use my name,” he said in Rio de Janeiro. “The people have decided.”

Centrists and leftists

Bolsonaro also complained about the growth of left-leaning parties, some of them were able to make inroads into the electorate along with centrist parties. Some Brazilians “still have this love for the scoundrel left”, he said.

Yet the left emerging from these elections is somewhat different from the one that ruled Brazil for more than a decade under the Workers’ Party of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The PT, as it is widely known in Brazil, is still the country’s largest leftist party but its numbers have been shrinking — it failed to elect one single mayor in any of Brazil’s capitals in 2020. A PT candidate was even defeated in Recife, capital of northeastern state of Pernambuco that’s Lula’s cradle.

While centrist parties consolidate their clout, with the MDB of former president Michel Temer electing the most mayors across the country, a number of other left-leaning parties seem to be occupying the void left by the PT, including Boulous’ Socialism and Liberty Party.



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