Mayoral Candidates Vie for Office in Brazil’s Centers of Power

By Rachel Glickhouse

Brazilians head to the polls on October 7, when national players compete for the mayoralty of São Paulo and incumbents fight for their seats in Rio and Belo Horizonte.

Brazilians head to the polls for municipal elections on October 7 with key mayoral races in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte—three of the country’s largest cities. Candidates must win 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff election on October 28. Many candidates rely on forming coalitions with other political parties, and the ruling Workers Party (PT in Portuguese) has campaigned heavily for its candidates in each of the three cities. While recovering from cancer, popular ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva worked on PT campaigns throughout the country as honorary president of the party, with President Dilma Rousseff, also of the PT, providing support from a distance. As national players compete for the post of mayor of São Paulo, incumbents fight to keep their seats in Rio and Belo Horizonte.

São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, will also host one of the country’s biggest races, and one the PT has put at the center of its campaign efforts. Former federal Congressman Celso Russomano of the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) leads with 30 percent of the vote, according to a September 27 Datafolha poll. In second place with 22 percent of the vote is the Brazilian Social Democratic Party’s (PSDB) José Serra, a former São Paulo mayor, governor, federal congressman, and federal minister who lost the presidential race to Rousseff in 2010. Fernando Haddad represents the PT, and is polling at 18 percent. He served as federal minister of education from 2005 until January 2012, when he stepped down to run for office.

Lula has been one of Haddad’s strongest supporters, though not always to his benefit. Lula caused a national outcry in June when he teamed up with Progressive Party (PP) federal congressman Paulo Maluf—accused of numerous corruption charges—to endorse the PT candidate. As a result, Haddad’s vice pick resigned from the campaign. Federal Congressman Gabriel Chalita of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) trails in fourth place with 9 percent of the vote. Given the close race, Lula cleared his campaign and speaking engagement schedule until the elections to hit the campaign trail in São Paulo, while Rousseff travels to the city on October 1 for a Haddad campaign event.

In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent Mayor Eduardo Paes of the PMDB seemed guaranteed a victory in the first round. But his opponent, state assemblyman Marcelo Freixo of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), gradually gained a larger share in the polls over the past three months. A September 27 Datafolha poll puts Paes ahead with 55 percent of the vote with Freixo at 19 percent; without a majority, the election will be decided in a runoff. As a part of a large coalition that includes the PT, Paes enjoys support from both Lula and Rousseff, who appear in his campaign ads. Freixo, meanwhile, refused to create a coalition, and as a result has considerably less TV advertising time than Paes, since a national rule gives more time to parties with the largest representation in Congress. Nevertheless, Freixo saw growing support due to his intensive social media strategy and popularity stemming from a character based on him in the movie “Elite Squad 2,” writes Taylor Barnes for Americas Quarterly. Freixo is actively courting the youth vote, which could give him the extra boost to go to a second round. According to Datafolha, 36 percent of voters under the age of 24 plan to vote for Freixo.

As Brazil’s second most populous state and a major agricultural producer, Minas Gerais has long been an incubator for politicians with national ambitions. The top contenders for mayor in Belo Horizonte, the state capital, come from the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and the PT. Incumbent Mayor Márcio Lecerda of the PSB leads with 45 percent of the vote, according to a September 27 Datafolha poll. The PT’s Patus Ananias, polling at 32 percent, served as mayor from 1993 to 1997. He also worked as federal minister of social development from 2004 to 2010. Rousseff herself helped launch and promote Ananias as a candidate, a VEJA report says, after the PT broke off its coalition with the PSB. The president, who hails from Belo Horizonte, appeared in Ananias’ ads but has yet to visit the city to support his campaign. In addition, Lula has campaigned for Ananias, as has Fernando Pimentel, a former Belo Horizonte mayor and current federal minister of development, industry, and foreign trade.

The PT hopes to win mayoralties to consolidate support for Rousseff’s programs and for the party on a national level. “We’re in our third administration of a great national transformation project. This transformation has to take place on the national level, in states, and mainly in cities. The PT’s growth in municipal elections helps sustain our national project,” said Congressman Geraldo Magela earlier this year.

In other Brazil and Southern Cone news:

  • On October 1 and 2, Peru’s capital hosts the Third Summit of South American-Arab Countries, which brings together 12 South American and 22 Arab countries. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will attend the meeting, which was created by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2005. On a similar note, the Associated Press reports that Chile’s Palestinian community—made up of 350,000 immigrants and descendants—is flourishing, with initiatives from the creation of small businesses to establishing a local soccer club.
  • On September 30, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera sent the country’s 2012 budget to Congress, which included $12.8 billion for education— the largest investment of its kind in Chile’s history.
  • Mongolia hopes to replicate Chile’s economic success, learning from its “experience as a small, copper-dependent economy that prudently stashed cash during the boom years,” writes Financial Times’s Beyondbrics blog. Leaders from the Asian country organized numerous missions to Chile over the past four years and passed a fiscal stability law modeled after Chilean legislation.
  • Drought in Paraguay has wreaked havoc on the country’s soybean crops, causing the economy to shrink by 2.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012.