Shaken by the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak and deep economic crisis, Brazilians voted on Sunday for experienced politicians from traditional parties in the local elections, a measure that could damage the hopes of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Candidates backed by the right-wing populist president, who presents himself as an outsider, were ousted from the country’s largest city, Sao Paulo, and other municipal races in state capitals.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest, a former mayor, Eduardo Paes, led the election and will meet incumbent mayor, Evangelical Bishop Marcelo Crivella, in a runoff in two weeks.
In Salvador, the fourth city, voters chose Bruno Reis from the Democrat (DEM), who won mayoral races in Curitiba and Florianópolis and preferred to win Rio with Paes.
In Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city, voters re-elected Alexandre Kalil, who took tough quarantine and social distancing steps criticized by Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19.
“The pandemic has slowed the trend towards anti-politics and the rejection of traditional parties for being corrupt,” said Creomar de Souza, head of Brazil-based consulting firm Dharma Political Risk and Strategy.
“Voters understood that the politicians elected with Bolsonaro 2018 are deficient and they want to see public services improved,” he added.
The results are a setback for Bolsonaro and indicate that the wave of anti-establishment sentiment that led to his election in 2018 after the widespread political corruption revealed by the Car Wash transplant investigation may have subsided.
When voters look to traditional parties, such as the DEM and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), which are leading the race for Sao Paulo’s mayor, Bolsonaro seems vulnerable because he has no party.
The Social Liberal Party (PSL) which he joined in his presidential campaign and later joined was nowhere to be seen in major city races on Sunday, despite having risen two years ago to become the second largest in Congress.