Traditional centre and centre-right parties won the big prizes in Brazil’s municipal elections on Sunday, while candidates supported by populist President Jair Bolsonaro floundered.
“Let’s say the ‘old politics’ is back,” said Esther Solano, a professor of politics at the Federal University of São Paulo.
The leftwing Workers’ party, which governed Brazil for 13 years between 2003 and 2016, was also routed, raising questions about its long-term political prospects. The party of the once-wildly popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva failed to win the mayorships of any of Brazil’s most important cities.
The elections in more than 5,000 municipalities are viewed as an important bellwether of the political climate in Latin America’s largest country ahead of presidential polls in two years.
They are also a crucial opportunity for parties to gain control over the local political machinery, which can be harnessed for the federal election campaigns in 2022.
In São Paulo — Brazil’s biggest and wealthiest city — the incumbent centre-right mayor Bruno Covas fended off a challenge from Guilherme Boulos, a leftwing former land activist, who rode a groundswell of support from the city’s youth. The victory of Mr Covas will be a boon to the political ambitions of ally João Doria, the state governor of São Paulo, who has emerged in the past year as one of Mr Bolsonaro’s fiercest critics.
In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent mayor Marcelo Crivella — a key ally of Mr Bolsonaro — was firmly defeated by Eduardo Paes, a centrist former mayor of the seaside city, who claimed 64 per cent of the vote.
Only in Vitória, the capital city of the state of Espírito Santo, did a candidate supported by the Brazilian president win.
“Bolsonarismo was defeated this year, and he could be in jeopardy in 2022. It depends on what he can do politically in the next two years,” said Marco Nogueira, a political analyst at the São Paulo State University.
“But it is also important to recognise that the parties that support him in Congress did not do badly in these elections. We have to see what they will do next year. The centre of Brazil politics is home to all sorts.”
Few analysts, however, see Sunday’s results as a mortal blow to the Brazilian president, judging that he is popular for this personal charisma.
Mr Bolsonaro currently rides high in national opinion polls, with an approval rating of almost 38 per cent per cent — a strong level for Brazilian presidents.
His popularity jumped this year after his government began giving out monthly coronavirus stipends of around $120 to the country’s poorest citizens.
The election results are, however, likely to shake the foundations of the once-powerful Workers’ party, which has struggled in opposition since the election of Mr Bolsonaro in 2018.
The party has been lambasted by critics for failing to promote new blood and focusing incessantly on former president Lula, himself a controversial character for his involvement in Brazil’s long-running Car Wash corruption scandal.
“A new younger left is getting stronger. With no doubt the main lefty figure after today in Brazil is Guilherme Boulos, and for the first time in years this leadership does not belong to PT,” said Prof Solano, referring to the São Paulo candidate who ran with the far-left PSOL party. “The PT is at serious risk of becoming just a bureaucratic party without any strength.”
With a record number of women, people of colour and military officials contesting seats, the election was characterised by increased mobilisation across the political spectrum.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice