Mayor candidates try to emerge from shadow of Bolsonaro and Lula

. Nov 25, 2020
lula bolsonaro Guilherme Boulos tries to stage a comeback in São Paulo. Photo: Gabriel Trevisan/FP

It remains too early to draw definitive conclusions from the 2020 municipal elections in Brazil. As races continue in key constituencies, the tepid electoral process disturbed by a deadly pandemic and a massive economic crisis makes it impossible to know — at this juncture — whether 2020 will go down as an outlier or an indication of trends for the presidential election in two years time. Regardless, what we can conclude is that both Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — the two biggest names in Brazilian politics today — suffered dents to their political capital.

Instead of being major kingmakers, President Bolsonaro and former head of state Lula have been used by adversaries as a way to discredit competitors in mayoral races.

</p> <p>In São Paulo, left-wing candidate Guilherme Boulos is <a href="">mounting a comeback</a> against incumbent Bruno Covas, who began the runoff stage polling head and shoulders in front. Despite his historical links to Lula, Mr. Boulos has veered away from endorsements by the ex-president, instead framing his candidacy as a vehicle for broad unity on the left.</p> <p>In a recent campaign ad, Mr. Boulos featured the figureheads of four left and center-left parties, joining forces for the first time since Lula ran for election in 2006.</p> <p>Besides the former president, the Boulos campaign ad features former presidential candidates Ciro Gomes and Marina Silva, as well as Flávio Dino — the governor of northeastern state Maranhão and leading figure of the Communist Party of Brazil.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="bolsonaro lula mayor election" class="wp-image-53186" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 600w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas meets with voters. Photo: Patrícia Cruz/FP</figcaption></figure> <p>In this scenario, Lula appears less as a decisive godfather figure bestowing Guilherme Boulos with his blessing and more as a token of a rare unity on the left of center.</p> <p>Meanwhile, to Mr. Boulos&#8217;s right, Mayor Bruno Covas opts for a completely different strategy to that employed by his <a href="">Brazilian Social Democracy Party</a> in 2018. Two years ago, the party tried at all costs to associate itself with then presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. However, this time around, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s support has dwindled in Brazil&#8217;s biggest city and links between Mr. Covas and the president have been used by detractors trying to tag the moderate conservative as &#8220;far-right.&#8221;</p> <p>In response, Mr. Covas declared he has never supported Jair Bolsonaro, claiming that he spoiled his ballot in the <a href="">2018 presidential runoff</a>.</p> <h2>Unwelcome support in São Paulo</h2> <p>There is quantitative evidence to suggest that keeping either Lula or Jair Bolsonaro at arm&#8217;s length is beneficial for both São Paulo candidates. An Ibope poll from mid-September asked voters whether endorsements from the president or Lula would affect their choices for mayor. Forty-one percent of the electorate said that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s support for a given candidate would severely reduce their inclination to vote for them; 34 percent said the same about former President Lula.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4465425"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Wading into a family feud</h2> <p>While Lula has had a reduced role in Guilherme Boulos&#8217;s mayoral campaign in São Paulo, there is one runoff race in which the former president has been heavily involved.</p> <p>In Recife, the dispute for mayor will go right down to the wire between Workers&#8217; Party candidate Marília Arraes and João Campos, from the Brazilian Socialist Party of incumbent mayor Geraldo Júlio. In the first round of voting, the pair were separated by just two percentage points, with Mr. Campos slightly ahead.</p> <p>Unlike São Paulo, Lula can still play kingmaker in Recife, as his Workers&#8217; Party retains a solid level of support in the surrounding state of Pernambuco. Since the former president joined Marília Arraes&#8217; campaign, she has pushed out in front. Opinion polls released last week showed the Workers&#8217; Party candidate pulling ahead with 45 percent of the vote, against 39 percent for João Campos.</p> <p>There is an added ingredient to the mayoral race in Recife which — while not being a particularly prominent feature of the campaign — piques the interest of outside observers. Marília Arraes and João Campos are first cousins once removed: the former is the granddaughter of Miguel Arraes, the popular former politician who served three terms as Governor of Pernambuco.</p> <p>Meanwhile, João Campos is Mr. Arraes&#8217; great-grandson, and the son of former presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, killed in a plane crash during the 2014 campaign.</p> <h2>Bolsonaro&#8217;s aides: stay out of it</h2> <p>Only three of the 14 mayoral candidates openly endorsed by President Jair Bolsonaro won in the first round of elections. Two qualified for runoffs, though both are set to lose in Sunday&#8217;s vote.</p> <p>Before the beginning of the campaign, Mr. Bolsonaro was advised to stay out of this year&#8217;s municipal elections. The rationale was that, without a consolidated party structure, there was only so much the president&#8217;s endorsement could do to help elect allies. And if they were not unsuccessful, the defeats would go down as losses for Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s political capital.</p> <p>The president heed this advice for most of the campaign, before indulging himself in the home stretch and going on a spree of mayoral endorsements up and down the country.</p> <p>Now, having experienced failure, Mr. Bolsonaro is set to listen to his aides and keep his powder dry for the runoff elections.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent Mayor Marcelo Crivella has asked the president to take a more active role in his campaign. Mr. Crivella is currently trailing challenger Eduardo Paes by a huge margin and is set to <a href="">lose Sunday&#8217;s election</a> in a landslide.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s other endorsement taking part in a runoff election has refused the president&#8217;s support in the second round. Retired military police officer Capitão Wagner, running for mayor of northeastern city Fortaleza, has decided not to include Mr. Bolsonaro in his runoff campaign in response to tanking polling numbers. Despite thanking the president for his support, Capitão Wagner declares that he is an &#8220;independent candidate&#8221; in an attempt to recover in time for Sunday&#8217;s vote.

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Débora Álvares

Débora Álvares has worked as a political reporter for newspapers Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo, Globo News, HuffPost, among others. She specializes in reporting on Brasilia, working behind-the-scenes coverage at the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government.

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