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Brazil local elections deal blow to Bolsonaro

November 16, 2020

Parties with the backing of independent President Jair Bolsonaro fared worse than predicted in local elections. The left-wing Workers' Party also struggled. Traditional center-right and right-wing groups gained ground.

A polling station during Brazil's local elections
Image: Tarso Sarraf/Getty Images/AFP

Voters in Brazil rebuked President Jair Bolsonaro's political allies in local elections on Sunday. Candidates backed by the right-wing populist president racked up losses in the country's largest city of Sao Paulo and other municipal races in state capitals. 

Bolsonaro, who has no official political party, has been under fire this year for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In gross terms, Brazil has the world's third-highest known caseload and second-highest known death toll — with its economy also impacted.

Read more: Brazil: Trans candidates on the increase at local elections

The president still holds approval ratings above 40% and he still counts on a loyal core of voters who favor his tenure. Bolsonaro was spotted voting in his hometown, Rio de Janeiro, and posing for photos with supporters outside the polling station. He did not speak with the press. 

Aside from Bolsonaro, Brazil’s left was the other political group hurt in Sundays local elections. The Workers' Party has been weakened and divided since the impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the jailing of her predecessor, party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on corruption charges. 

Read more: Coronavirus: Brazilian politicians use vaccine for political shot in the arm

Voters back establishment parties 

Traditional center-right and right-wing parties emerged as winners in the first round of the local elections.  

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city and economic capital, Bolsonaro's candidate Celso Russomanno failed to reach the November 29 runoff, finishing far behind center-right Mayor Bruno Covas and left-wing candidate Guilherme Boulos, according to early official results. 

The president's ally in Rio de Janeiro, Evangelical pastor and current Mayor Marcelo Crivella, managed to clear the hurdle and reach the second round, but he trailed ex-mayor Eduardo Paes 37% to 22%, election officials said. 

Read more: Opinion: Bolsonaro lies to UN about pandemic, Amazon fires

In a direct rebuke to Bolsonaro, voters in Belo Horizonte, the sixth-largest city, re-elected mayor Alexandre Kalil, who took tough quarantine and social distancing steps that were criticized directly by the president. 

One political party that Bolsonaro had backed during his presidential campaign, The Social Liberal Party, did not even make it to the top three in major city races across the country, despite having been boosted by his endorsement enough to become the second largest group in Congress. 

The only place where Bolsonaro candidates scored were smaller cities, such as Belem and Fortaleza. 

jcg/msh (AP, AFP)