Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab was easily re-elected in Brazil's largest city

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Left and centre-right make
gains in Brazil’s larger cities

By Guy Burton, South America Correspondent

28 October 2008: Gilberto Kassab of the centre-right Democrats party, won the contest for São Paulo mayor in the second round yesterday (26 October), beating Marta Suplicy, the PT candidate, by 60.7% to 39.3%. According to political scientist Maria Victoria Benevides, Kassab owed his victory to a generally indifferent public. In contrast, Suplicy, provoked strong feelings of rejection, especially among the middle class who feel the government has privileged the very rich and very poor. A former mayor of São Paulo between 1997 and 2000, Suplicy is closely associated with President Lula and the PT leadership. Despite winning the first round election three weeks ago, she proved unable to expand her vote share.

Kassab has been mayor since 2006, when the previous incumbent, the PSDB’s José Serra, left the position to run successfully for the state governorship. Kassab’s victory consolidates the position of the PSDB-Democrats electoral alliance in the city, achieving a greater share of the vote compared to Serra last time in 2004. Furthermore, his election could well prove encouraging for the electoral alliance ahead of the 2010 presidential election, when Serra may again have the chance to be a national candidate (having previously stood against Lula in 2002).

While Serra’s hand has been strengthened by Kassab’s victory, his status as frontrunner for the PSDB in 2010 is constrained by the success of Marcio Lacerda (PSB) in Belo Horizonte. Lacerda was the compromise candidate of the local PT-PSDB electoral coalition. His electoral victory in the Minas Gerais state capital, by 59.12% to the PMDB’s Leonardo Quintão’s 40.88%, will be seen as benefiting the state governor, Aecio Neves (PSDB), who is also considering a run at the presidency in 2010.

In other cities the national rivalry between the PT and PSDB was more evident. In these contests, the PT government’s coalition with the catch-all PMDB was more apparent and produced some mixed results at the local level. In Rio, despite the closest vote between the two candidates in the city’s history, the PMDB’s Eduardo Paes defeated the Green Party’s Fernando Gabeira by 50.83% to 49.17%. Paes claimed that the support of the PT and Lula was invaluable to his campaign. In Salvador, meanwhile, the contest was between the PMDB’s João Henrique Carneiro and the PT congressman, Walter Pinheiro. With both parties in coalition, the national PT leadership chose to stay out of the contest, resulting in both local parties claiming the right to use Lula’s image in campaign material.

In Porto Alegre a similar PT-PMDB situation was played out. There the favourite and incumbent, José Fogaça (PMDB), beat the PT candidate, Maria do Rosário, by 58.95% to 41.05%. As in Salvador the national PT largely stayed out of the contest, with Lula only entering the fray towards the end of the three-week campaign and once it became clear that Rosário had a slight chance of winning. However, given the PT’s more radical nature in Porto Alegre compared to the national party, Lula’s last-minute intervention proved a case of too little, too late – and the party’s former flagship city, which it governed between 1989 and 2004 and in which it introduced the participatory budget, remained out of reach.

Notwithstanding the local difficulties between the two parties, the PT and the PMDB appear to have made the most of the bigger electoral contests, controlling the mayoralties of the largest cities. Of the state capitals and the 79 cities that have over 200,000 inhabitants, the PT will hold the mayoralty of six state capitals and 15 large cities (up from 17 in 2004) and the PMDB 17 (up from 14). This will offset the PT’s failure to win many of the state capitals, and will prove sweet compensation in comparison to the PSDB, which took 13 of the biggest cities (down from 15 in 2004).

Brazil’s socialists celebrates
first wins in local elections

6 October 2008: Sao Paulo’s mayoral race has gone to a second round between incumbent Gilberto Kassab and former mayor Marta Suplicy following a closely fought campaign. Elsewhere in the 5 October 2008 elections, the Workers’ Party (PT) hailed its “best performance yet” with a clutch of outright victories in state capitals, while in Rio the outside-ranked Green challenger has forced a run-off against the leading centrist candidate.

The Sao Paulo race saw the 2000-2004 mayor and current Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy of the Workers’ Party poll 32 per cent to incumbent Democrats mayor Gilberto Kassab’s 33 per cent in a close race which confounded pundits’ predictions of a Marta lead over Kassab following opinion polls. Kassab became mayor in 2006, having been elected vice mayor in 2004, following Jose Serra’s victory in the Sao Paulo gubernatorial elections.

The PT could however point to outright victories in the north-eastern state capitals of Recife and Fortaleza, as well as Porto Velho, Palmas and Rio Branca. The results suggest a shift in the PT’s regional base from the industrial south-east where the party was founded in the early 1980s, to the impoverished north, where President Lula polled strongly in the 2006 elections. This may be due in part to the popularity of the bolsa familia social programme introduced by Lula’s party.

The PT failed to make a convincing comeback in its former citadel of Porto Alegre in the south, where incumbent PMDB mayor José Fogaça polled 43 per cent to the PT candidate Maria do Rosário’s 22 per cent. In Curitiba, PSDB mayor Beto Richa was convincingly re-elected with 77 per cent of votes cast.

A surprise result was Rio de Janeiro, traditionally weak territory for the PT, where Green Fernando Gabeira polled 25.6 per cent to the PMDB candidate Eduardo Paes’ 32 per cent. Gabeiro, a former guerrilla who participated in the infamous 1969 kidnap of the US ambassador, sits in the Brazilian Congress for the Green party he helped found in the 1980s following his return to Brazil after a period of exile under the dictatorship. The Rio race will shift to a run-off between Paes and Gabeira on 26 October, along with Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. (Report by Guy Burton and Andrew Stevens)

Brazil’s governing party predicted
to do well in coming local elections

30 September 2008: Midway through the Workers’ Party (PT) government’s second term, the party appears on course to repeat its electoral success in Brazil’s local elections on 5 October 2008. Nowhere does this seem more apparent than in São Paulo, the country’s economic and financial powerhouse. There, the party’s candidate, Marta Suplicy, the sitting mayor who lost the 2004 election to the social democratic (PSDB) candidate Jose Serra, has a good chance of winning the post a second time.

That 2004 election was an early opportunity to cast judgement on the PT national government of President Lula, at the midpoint of its first term. Suplicy’s defeat worried the party leadership, especially as she was seen as a representative of the same moderate wing of the party as Lula himself. At the same time the party also lost control of the southern city of Porto Alegre, which it had governed since 1989. The party’s loss in this flagship city was especially hard to accept, since it was the home of participatory budgeting and the anti-globalisation World Social Forum.

2005 was no better for the PT nationally. A massive scandal was exposed, in which it was uncovered that the government was using state funds to buy legislative support from congressmen. But while several senior PT leaders close to Lula lost their jobs, it did not have too adverse an impact on the president’s re-election the following year. Much of Lula’s success could be attributed to the personal support he had built up against that of his party on the one hand, and the success of the bolsa familia, a series of financial grants and benefits for poorer families, on the other.

The prospects for the PT and its electoral allies in this year’s local elections seem brighter than four years ago. According to polls across the country’s state capitals and largest cities, the PT (or its electoral coalition partners) is among the frontrunners. Lula’s popularity has contributed to this, including in São Paulo, where Suplicy enjoys a comfortable lead with 37 per cent and should face a second round run-off on 26 October against either the current mayor, Gilberto Kassab, of the centre-right Democrats (24 per cent) or Lula’s 2006 presidential rival, Geraldo Alckmin, of the PSDB (20 per cent). The fight between these two candidates for second place caused consternation when Alckmin first declared his intention stand earlier this year, since both parties had previously formed a cohesive electoral and governing coalition both locally and nationally against the PT. Indeed Alckmin’s decision may have backfired, as he has been slipping in the polls since July, when he was polling 31 per cent against Kassab’s 13 per cent.

Indeed, the PT’s position is especially notable in the Northeast, where it similarly drew much of its vote in 2006. In one of the few PT successes of 2004, the current PT mayor in Fortaleza, the Ceará state capital, Luizianne Lins, appears to be cruising towards re-election, with 47 per cent of the poll against the Democrats’ Moroni Torgan, who is in second place, with 20 per cent. Meanwhile in Recife the PT candidate, João da Costa, looks like winning the first round, with around 47 per cent of the poll, despite an electoral court decision last week to ban him for standing for office for misuse of state machinery. And in Salvador, the Bahian state capital, the PT candidate, Walter Pinheiro, is locked in a struggle against the PMDB candidate and current mayor, João Henrique, for second place. Pinheiro has around 21 per cent of voting intentions against João Henrique’s 23 per cent and Pinheiro is walking a fine line between criticising his opponent for second place while also ensuring that he can pick up PMDB support and votes in any eventual second round. Both are trailing the Democrats’ Antonio Carlos Magalhães Neto, who is not far ahead, on 25 per cent.

Elsewhere, in Porto Alegre the PT candidate Maria do Rosário is currently in third place, with between 16-19 per cent of the poll. She is closing on the 27 year-old Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) candidate (and current congresswoman) Manuela D’Ávila, whose polls have seen her slip from 23 per cent to 18 per cent recently. Both are vying with the current mayor and victor of the 2004 election, José Fogaça, who represents the centrist PMDB party and currently has the support of 35-38 per cent of the electorate.

In the Minas Gerais state capital, Belo Horizonte, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate, Marcio Lacerda, is in a strong lead with around 45 per cent in the polls. Supported by both the PT and the PSDB governor Aecio Neves, Lacerda will probably face the PMDB’s Leonardo Quintão, in a second round. Quintão has seen his poll ratings rise from 11 per cent to 20 per cent in the last few weeks, surpassing Jô Moraes of the PCdoB, who remains on 13 per cent.

Of the larger cities, it is Rio de Janeiro that the PT tends not to have much of a presence. There the left-wing vote is split between it, the PSOL (a party that broke away from the PT following disillusionment with the Lula government in 2003) and the PCdoB. Meanwhile, the likely victor will be either Eduardo Paes, of the PMDB, who will enter a second round run-off against either senator Marcelo Crivela or Fernando Gabeira. Paes is polling 29 per cent of the vote at present while Crivela, a licensed evangelist preacher, is on 18 per cent and Gabeira, a well-known environmentalist, is on 15 per cent.

Finally, if Alckmin’s prospects look quite bleak, there is still a silver lining for the PSDB. In Curitiba, the state capital of Paraná, the current mayor looks like cruising to a first round election victory; there Beto Richa is polling 73 per cent to the second-placed PT candidate, Gleisi Hoffman, who has between 10-16 per cent. (Report by Guy Burton and Andrew Stevens)

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