By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s presidential race may be making most of the headlines, but the country’s presidency is only one of the hundreds of seats that will be contested on October 3rd, state governorships being some of the most coveted among them.
The incumbent governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sérgio Cabral is running for re-election to a second term at the state’s highest elected office, and has assumed a comfortable lead. According to figures released by Datafolha, Cabral is ahead with 58 percent of the polled public behind him, while the next closest candidate, Fernando Gabeira has just seventeen percent.
Cabral’s first term as governor primarily focused on two issues that have afflicted Rio for decades; public safety and health. He has created a new system for emergency health services, by opening Unidades de Pronto Atendimento (Emergency Care Units) known as UPA 24h, which provide free and basic health services, and help relieve the burden of the hospital emergency rooms
His best-known accomplishment, and quite possibly the biggest contributor to his current popularity, is reducing violent crime rates, especially in the favelas, due to the establishment of the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (U.P.P. / Police Pacification Units) in areas where drug-related crime used to be high.
The U.P.P.s, however, have been the source of much debate and no small amount of criticism for giving priority to the more affluent Zona Sul region, with the first units established in the favelas of Santa Marta, Pavão-Pavãozinho, and Cantagalo. Since the 2008 inauguration of the project, some favelas in Zona Norte, such as Complexo do Borel have been targeted for pacification, whilst Rocinha, the city’s biggest favela in the headlines recently due to its gang’s role in a recent shooting and hostage crisis, remains unpacified.
Cabral’s closest rival in the race for state governorship, Fernando Gabeira, banned from entering the United States due to his role in kidnapping the U.S. ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick in 1969, has repeatedly criticized Cabral for refraining from entering the favelas and sending his employees to conduct his work there.
Gabeira ran for Mayor in 2008 but lost out to Edwardo Paes, and his credentials were damaged after photos of him from a swimwear fashion shoot emerged in the press.
All 26 of Brazil’s states, along with the Distrito Federal (the nation’s capital Brasília), will be holding gubernatorial elections as part of the general elections; and in each state, if no candidate gets the absolute majority of the votes, a run-off round will be held on October 31st, in the same manner as the presidential elections.
Sérgio Cabral, both a politician and former journalist, served as a state deputy on the Assembléia Legislativa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro) between 1991-2002, and was elected President of the Assembly in 1994. During this period, he also has run unsuccessfully for mayor twice, in 1992 and 1996.
His growing political aspirations led him to become a senator of the state in 2002, and four years later he was elected governor on his first attempt, defeating Denise Frossard in the run-off round with 68 percent of the votes.
Cabral, affiliated with the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), which has thrown its support behind Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) and thus Dilma Rousseff’s run for presidency, has been increasingly trying to align himself with her on the campaign propaganda materials that cover the streets of Rio.
Given Dilma’s recent surge in popularity that seems to indicate she is on her way to a landslide victory, Cabral’s strategic choices look to have been sound ones.