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‘Trump of the tropics’ Bolsonaro suffers heavy losses in Brazil mayoral races

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters after voting during municipal runoff elections in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters after voting during municipal runoff elections in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
(Silvia Izquierdo / Associated Press)

President Jair Bolsonaro suffered big losses in Brazil’s just-completed municipal elections, with only five mayoral candidates he supported winning their races and none of them in the most important cities.

Bolsonaro, a populist who has embraced the label of “Trump of the tropics,” has consistently downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, even though Brazil has experienced more deaths from the disease — nearly 173,000 — than any country except the United States. Like President Trump, Bolsonaro himself contracted COVID-19 and recovered.

Bolsonaro’s worst rebuff came in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, where Mayor Marcelo Crivella was battered in a runoff election Sunday, losing to his center-right predecessor, Eduardo Paes, by 64% to 36%. Crivella, an evangelical pastor, repeatedly used the president in his campaign to try to turn his fortunes.

Another big defeat for Bolsonaro came in Fortaleza, Brazil’s fifth-most populous city, where little-known center-left candidate Sarto Nogueira topped Wagner Gomes, the president’s favorite, 51.5% to 48.5%. Gomes had led opinion polls before the campaign began and often touted Bolsonaro’s support, but he sought to distance himself in the campaign’s waning days.

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A Bolsonaro candidate also lost in Belem, one of the capitals of the Amazon, although it was a close vote. Leftist Edmilson Rodrigues edged out Everaldo Iguchi and will be the city’s mayor for a third time.

The poor showing by Bolsonaro’s candidates began shaping up in the first round of municipal elections two weeks ago.

Brazil’s death toll has surpassed 22,000 and any semblance of President Jair Bolsonaro’s personal responsibility has evaporated

Sao Paulo, a metropolis of more than 12 million people that is Brazil’s — and South America’s — biggest city, gave just 10% of its vote to Bolsonaro’s candidate, Celso Russomanno, who finished fourth. Sunday’s runoff was between two critics of the president and resulted in center-right Mayor Bruno Covas easily winning reelection over socialist Guilherme Boulos by 60% to 40%.

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Other candidates supported by Bolsonaro also failed to make it into Sunday’s runoffs, losing by wide margins in populous state capitals such as Belo Horizonte, Recife and Manaus. His candidate also lost in Santos, one of the most important cities in Sao Paulo state.

Of the 78 municipal candidates who even ran by adding Bolsonaro’s name to their own on the ballot, only one won, and that was one of the president’s sons, according to Brazil’s top electoral court. Carlos Bolsonaro, a key member of his father’s social media team, kept his seat on the Rio council with more than 71,000 votes — though that was fewer than the 106,000 he received four years ago.

“Bolsonaro is clearly the biggest loser of the mayoral races,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University. “He failed to start a party; he failed to make his candidates stronger. It was almost as if he ignored these elections, but they gave a lot of leverage to parties he will have to talk to in congress. He is a weaker president because of these defeats.”

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The five Bolsonaro mayoral candidates who won did so in midsize cities.

In the first round two weeks ago, two candidates endorsed by the president won outright. Francisco de Assis de Moraes Souza, better known as Mao Santa (Holy Hand), won in Parnaiba, a city of 150,000 people in the impoverished state of Piaui. Gustavo Nunes was elected in Ipatinga, a prosperous city with an iron ore-based economy and 263,000 residents.

The three who won their runoffs Sunday received the president’s endorsement only after the first vote. Tiao Bocalom won in Rio Branco, a state capital of 400,000 people near the border with Bolivia. Roberto Naves was elected in Anapolis, a city of 360,000 in central Brazil. Nelson Ruas dos Santos won in Sao Goncalo, a city of 337,000 outside Rio.

Some of the winners Sunday who weren’t backed by Bolsonaro sent messages that their allies took to be aimed at the president.

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“It is possible to be in politics without hatred,” Covas, Sao Paulo’s incumbent mayor, said after his reelection victory. “There are only a few days left for denialists and obscurantism.”

Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria, the main sponsor of Covas’ candidacy, is a potential bidder for the presidency in 2022.

Paes, the mayoral winner in Rio, said his triumph was “a victory of politics over radicalism.”


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