The mayor of Sao Paulo appeared headed to successfully fending off a re-election challenge from a socialist candidate as 57 Brazilian cities held runoff elections on Sunday.
With nearly two-thirds of ballots counted in Sao Paulo, Mayor Bruno Covas had a little less than 60 percent of the votes to 40 percent for Guilherme Boulos, who had been backed by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Covas, the grandson of a former state governor, is a close ally of the current Sao Paulo state governor, Joao Doria, his predecessor as mayor, and a strong showing might boost Doria’s presidential aspirations for the centre-right Social Democracy Party.
He campaigned on his performance leading the city of 12 million people through the coronavirus crisis, helping set up field hospitals and pushing for restrictions on activity while challenging President Jair Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the pandemic’s seriousness. A cancer survivor, Covas also recovered from a bout with the virus in June.
Boulos, the son of university professors, decided at age 16 to become a community organiser in poor areas of the city and has not left since, still living in a poor neighbourhood with his wife and two daughters. Even with a defeat, he is expected to become one of the most important left-wing leaders in Brazil after propelling himself into the mayoral runoff.
One of the leaders of the Homeless Workers Movement, he became known for organising invasions of empty buildings in downtown Sao Paulo, arguing they should be shared by homeless families.
He recently announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Unable to vote while quarantining, he appeared on a balcony of his house on Sunday to greet supporters.
Sunday’s polls, which come following a first round of voting on November 15, are the last time the country votes before right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is up for re-election in 2022.
While analysts have warned against viewing the local elections – which involve some 500,000 city council candidates and 19,000 mayoral candidates in more than 5,570 municipalities – as a referendum on Bolsonaro, they have said the vote indicates the direction the country is heading.
The first round of voting saw few candidates backed by the populist leader – dubbed the “Tropical Trump” – advance. Of the almost 60 candidates Bolsonaro endorsed, only nine moved forward, according to a tally by the newspaper O Estado de S Paulo.
The president’s biggest setback, other than Sao Paulo, is coming in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, where his favoured candidate, Mayor Marcelo Crivella, was losing by a wide margin to former Mayor Eduardo Paes. With slightly less than 60 percent of the vote counted, Paes led Crivella by 64 percent to 36 percent.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the raging coronavirus pandemic as a “little flu”, and has faced criticism for his handling of the outbreak, which has often put him at odds with local officials.
Sunday’s vote, which comes after the elections were initially delayed for six weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak, takes place as infections continue to rage in Brazil, which has confirmed the third-most cases in the world and the second-most deaths since the pandemic began.
More than 6.2 million cases have been confirmed in the country with 172,500 deaths.
Earlier on Sunday, Bolsonaro pushed unfounded claims that the recent United States presidential election was marred by fraud. Bolsonaro said he would continue to be one of the few world leaders to not yet recognise President-elect Joe Biden as the next president of the US.
“I have my sources of information that there really was a lot of fraud there,” Bolsonaro said. “Nobody talks about that. If it was enough to define [victory] for one or the other, I don’t know.”
Asked if he would recognise Biden’s victory, he said, “I am holding back a little more.”
The Brazilian president also expressed doubts about Brazil’s current electronic voting system, which he has suggested is vulnerable to fraud. He has urged the country to go back to a paper ballot system for the 2022 presidential election.