Brazil voters elect mayors amid surge in COVID-19 cases, violence

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives to vote during the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazilian voters in 57 cities including 18 state capitals returned to the polls for run-off mayoral elections on Sunday amid a surge in cases of COVID-19 and violence involving assassinations and attacks on candidates.

Shaken by the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak and a deep economic crisis, Brazilians largely voted for experienced politicians from traditional parties.

Voters in São Paulo re-elected center-right mayor Bruno Covas for a new four-year term in Brazil’s largest city and financial hub. He defeated leftist opponent Guilherme Boulos who said he tested positive for COVID-19 48 hours before polls opened.

Covas’ win boosts São Paulo Governor João Doria, a potentially strong adversary for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who plans to seek re-election in 2022. Bolsonaro’s candidate for mayor of the country’s biggest city came in fourth in first round voting.

In Brazil’s second biggest city, centrist Eduardo Paes was elected in Rio de Janeiro instead of right-wing Evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella, who was running for re-election and was backed by Bolsonaro. Paes had served two terms as Rio mayor between 2009 and 2016. Crivella lost in Bolsonaro’s own home patch, where the now president served as congressman for 28 years.

In two months of campaigning leading up to the first round of voting on Nov. 15, there were 200 murders, attempted murders or otherwise injured candidates, according to Brazilian electoral authority TSE.

Sunday’s voting confirmed advances by center and center-right parties at the expense of candidates supported by Bolsonaro, which could complicate his re-election.

It also marked the first time since 1985 that the Workers Party (PT) of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva failed to secure the mayorship of a capital city.

In Fortaleza, the leftist PDT candidate defeated an opponent backed by Bolsonaro. In Belem the PSOL, a party to the left of Lula’s PT that came second with Boulos in Sao Paulo, won the mayor’s seat, beating out a candidate who Bolsonaro supported.

Only one candidate backed by Bolsonaro won a state capital, an anti-abortion Evangelical policeman who was elected mayor of Vitoria, Espirito Santo state.

Brazil, a socially unequal and politically divided nation, has registered more than 6.3 million total confirmed coronavirus cases, while deaths surpassed 172,000 this weekend.

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