Brazil’s City Elections Bust for Left But No Boon for Temer

  • Outsider businessman wins election in Brazil’s biggest city
  • Temer reforms may see short-term boost, longer term opposition

Brazilian voters thrashed the leftist Workers’ Party in municipal elections on Sunday but gave no clear sign of support for President Michel Temer as recession and corruption fatigue favored abstention and outsiders.

The leftist party of ousted President Dilma Rousseff, known as PT, lost control of Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city, and won in only one of the 26 capital cities. Even if the PT wins all of the run-off elections it still disputes on Oct. 30, the party will lose 59 percent of the municipalities it controlled, according to data compiled by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

The demise of the PT and gains of ruling coalition parties may give a short-term boost to Temer’s plans to cap spending and cut pension benefits. But deep-seated disillusionment over corruption and recession favored candidates seen as outsiders, fueled anti-Temer sentiment in Rio de Janeiro, and spells uncertainty for the 2018 presidential race.

"This is far from being a victory for President Temer," said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at business consulting firm Tendencias. "The PMDB hasn’t yet reaped the potential benefits of controlling the federal government, partly because it’s so associated with the corruption scandals." 

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In Rio de Janeiro, Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, lost the mayorship it had held for 8 years. Senator Marcelo Crivella of the Brazilian Republican Party, who led the race with support from evangelical churches, will dispute a runoff with Marcelo Freixo from the Socialism and Liberty Party. In a speech right after the results were announced, Freixo said he doesn’t want the help of the PMDB. Behind him, supporters chanted “Out with Temer.”

Sao Paulo city was taken by Joao Doria, a celebrity businessman running for the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, who says he’s “not a politician, but a manager.” He defeated incumbent Fernando Haddad of the PT.

"In the South and Southeast, we saw the consolidation of outsiders, a trend that should spread to the Northeast in 2018," said Marcio Coimbra, a professor at Ibmec university in Brasilia. "In 2018 we could have a presidential candidate outside of the mainstream."

More than one in three voters in Sao Paulo abstained or annulled their vote. In Rio de Janeiro that number was even higher.

The defeat of the PMDB in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro may be reinforcing the image that the party is doing the "dirty work" of cleaning up the economy, benefiting its ally the PSDB, MCM consulting firm said in a research note to clients.

That image may not be enough to scupper the legislative proposal government spending caps Temer intends to proposed this month. But it could increase resistance to his plans for cutting pension benefits further down the line, MCM said.

Voting took place without reports of major incidents. Security was stepped up in cities across the country, including in Rio de Janeiro, where at least a dozen candidates have been killed in the months leading up to the election.

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