LATIN AMERICA

Second round of municipal elections confirms Brazil’s sharp turn to the right

The defeat of the Workers Party in these latest polls marks a new phase in the political life of the country

The second round of municipal elections on Monday in Brazil delivered a clear national winner: the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), a group that, despite its name, espouses a center-right ideology. PSDB carried 14 of the 19 mayor’s offices in contest at these latest polls, having already swept Sao Paulo in the first round. In total, PSDB, which chose Senator Aécio Neves to run against President Dilma Rousseff in 2014, will lead 26 of the 92 major cities in the country.

Evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella,the new mayor of Rio de Janeiro.
Evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella,the new mayor of Rio de Janeiro.FERNANDO FRAZÃO / EFE

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The success of the party, the main ally of the Michel Temer government, indicates a sharp turn to the right in the South American country, and underscores the spectacular demise of the largest leftist group in Latin America, the once almighty Workers Party (PT), of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. PT has lost 60% of its voters, and has gone from holding the third-largest number of mayor’s offices (638) to the 10th (254), giving up six of the largest cities where it was in power, including its great stronghold of Recife.

“The blue wave is sweeping the country,” Neves said after the results were announced. Still, he is one of the few members of his party who has little to celebrate. He lost his strong voter base in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais State), which makes it more difficult for him to lead PSDB in the 2018 general elections and favors Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin.

The blue wave is sweeping the country Senator Aécio Neves

PT was already struggling when it entered the first round of these municipal elections. And there was the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in August after a very unpopular presidency amid a runaway economic crisis and Lula’s increasing loss of credibility due to an avalanche of corruption allegations. These two individuals, who led PT and the country for the last 13 years, epitomized the party. They were its only recognizable faces. Until three weeks ago, Fernando Haddad, Sao Paulo’s former mayor, could match their stature but his spectacular loss to PSDB’s João Doria in the first round buried his political career. PT then lost the rest of the cities in the decisive state of Sao Paulo, the most populous and richest in the country. The smaller cities on the outskirts of the capital, the industrial working-class red belt that was once a strong Lula base, have joined the PSDB majority.

The smaller cities on the outskirts of the capital have joined the PSDB majority

Once the results were announced, Alberto Cantalice, PT’s communications director, said on Twitter that the party would begin “rapid” internal renewal. The narrative of complete renewal of the party, led mainly by Tarso Genro, Rio Grande do Sul’s ex-governor, will likely gain currency in the next few months. Still, everything depends on Lula’s fate. He faces three federal charges for corruption and his entry into prison is a matter of constant speculation. Yet despite these accusations, Lula is still the most popular political leader in Brazil and even though his star is fading every day, he remains a favorite presidential candidate for 2018.

The left also suffered a thunderous, symbolic defeat in Rio de Janeiro where the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), which leans further left than PT, lost to the Brazilian Republican Party’s Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical leader who won an unprecedented victory for his party and his church. Most Crivella voters are working class people and he was the favorite candidate in Rio’s most famous favela, La Rocinha.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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