By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Voters in fifty cities, including seventeen state capitals, headed back to the polls on Sunday in the second round of Brazil’s municipal elections, to decide on their prefeito or city mayor. The second round involved cities with populations over 200,000 where no candidate had reached the fifty-percent threshold in the first round held October 7th.
The municipal elections also serve as a mid-term indicator on the popularity of the parties looking toward the 2014 presidential race. The win by Fernando Haddad (PT) as mayor of São Paulo against rival José Serra (PSDB) was perhaps the biggest sign of satisfaction with the party.
However, the PT did not fare as well nationwide, losing control of much of the northeast, including Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza. The PT is now leading in bigger cities while the PMDB is in smaller ones, and half of the elected candidates are from the three leading parties – the PT, PMDB and PSDB.
Although the PT lost some significant cities, their São Paulo victory means other losses have been easier to swallow as the city is Brazil’s largest, and the business and cultural center for the county.
Experts seem to agree that Haddad’s political program – consistent and in line with the needs of the population, especially the poorer parts – helped him to victory. São Paulo’s middle class has also grown massively since the previous two elections and many attribute their new-found lifestyle to President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Lula.
For this reason, Maria do Socorro Sousa Braga, political scientist at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), believes the fact that Haddad is a member of the ruling PT party has only helped him:
“Haddad grew a lot during the election process and has proven exceptional in debates and media interviews, but equally the negativity surrounding Serra and his past, things like his decision to leave the positions of São Paulo mayor and governor to run for president, also helped Haddad,” she tells The Rio Times.
Serra unsuccessfully attempted to use the high-profile political trial into the cash-for-votes mensalão scandal against Haddad, given a number of PT politicians have been sentenced to jail terms, but it is a move that backfired, as Haddad is relatively new to the party and had no ties to the group on trial.
Where some of Brazil’s media pundits have said that Haddad’s appointment heralds a new generation of the party – dubbed “PT 3.0” – which bolstered Dilma Rousseff’s chances of re-election in 2014, conversely, Serra’s chances of racing for president appear to have been dealt a fatal blow, and that the race will force the PSDB to bring a new candidate into the race.
Ms. Braga believes that person will be Senator and former Governor of Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves, and says it will be interesting to see what happens with the VP (Vice President) position:
“More conflict is expected after the PSB’s Eduardo Gomes emerged strengthened from the elections; he will likely contest the [VP] vacancy with the PMDB, forcing the PSB to side with the PSDB, as they have done in some major cities where the PT lost. For their part, the political right will join forces again, particularly the DEM and the PP, after being left weakened by the elections.”
Voting is a legal duty for Brazilians, who must vote or “justify” if they are unable to. But Cármen Lúcia, the President of Brazil’s Electoral Commission has voiced concerns over the number of abstentions, which totaled around nineteen percent of voters, and the number of blank or void votes – the largest since 1996.