Former Brazilian health minister, Jose Serra, beat incumbent Marta Suplici to become new Mayor of Sao Paulo

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Local election results offer few pointers
to 2006 Brazilian presidential contest
By Andrew Stevens, Political Editor

9 October 2004: A number of bad results for the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) in the country’s second round of mayoral elections does not mean that President Lula’s chances of re-election in 2006 can be written off. Despite losing the party strongholds of Sao Paulo, the country’s cultural and economic hub, and Porto Alegre, a set of complex issues determined the outcome in what was always likely to be a difficult election for the PT two years into its unchartered territory of holding the country’s presidency.

In Sao Paulo, the incumbent Mayor, Marta Suplicy, always faced an insurmountable task in being re-elected. Despite her considerable profile on the world stage, derived from her status as Mayor of a World City, appearances at UN conferences and member of a clan within Brazil’s ruling party, Suplicy was dragged down by not only domestic issues related to her track record as Mayor but also issues in her personal life and her public persona, which often came across as either arrogant or aloof. For instance, a levy on refuse collection and hikes in property taxes cost her the city’s middle class vote, while her colourful private life was played out in full during the campaign, with public spats with her former husband, the Sao Paulo Senator Eduardo Suplicy (PT).

A coalition of candidates rejected in the first round shifted their support to Suplicy’s opponent Jose Serra of the Brazilian Social Democrat Party (PSDB), arguing that the PT administration had failed during her time in the city hall. Indeed, the only rejected candidate from the first round to support Suplicy was ex-mayor Paulo Maluf of the right-wing Progressive Party. Unfortunately, Maluf was arrested between the rounds on charges of money-laundering. In contrast, Serra was able to portray himself as competent and a safe pair of hands. The new Mayor will not win any awards for charisma but can point to a personal history of public service and political acumen as both an economist and a minister in former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s PSDB government. The former TV sexologist Suplicy however, was felt to be lacking in political acumen and influence, particularly at state level, where Serra’s PSDB party colleague Geraldo Alckmin is Governor. The failure of President Lula, perhaps mindful of the issues of being associated with a losing campaign, to actively support Suplicy in the latter part of the campaign can only have compounded this image problem.

Many observers hope that Serra the technocrat can turn around the city’s problems, particularly in the areas of transport and crime, where his influence with the state governor will be useful. The first crisis the new Mayor faced was 3,000 homeless protestors, linked to an urban affiliate of the MST (landless peasants movement), who invaded the city hall to protest against the lack of social housing in the city only hours after his election.

Elsewhere, while the PT emerged victorious in a number of mid-sized state capitals, it did lose its stronghold of Porto Alegre in Rio Grande de Sul. This will be of particular interest outside of Brazil as the city is famed as the location of the first World Social Forum (a yearly gathering of non-governmental organisations) but also that of its innovative Participatory Budget, which has garnered much academic interest in recent times. In Porto Alegre, the PT’s Raul Pont was defeated by the Popular Socialist Party’s Jose Fogaza, with 46% to Fogaza’s 53%. In Sao Paulo, Jose Serra’s margin of victory was slightly larger, 55% to 45%.

In terms of Brazilian political history, these elections are significant, particularly in the cases of Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre, not only for the reasons already mentioned. In the late 1980s, the protest movement against the military dictatorship in these urban centres which came about through the actions of civil society was remoulded into the PT as a force for instilling a municipal democratic culture in the transitional period before Brazil became a functioning liberal democracy. Their loss might be seen as indicative of a number of possible conclusions.

Much is made of Sao Paulo’s status as a kingmaker in presidential elections. However, on this occasion, the PT can rightly point to ‘a few local difficulties’ in the form of Suplicy’s administration rather than Lula’s record as a PT president. Observers predict that even with Serra as Mayor, the city may yet support another term for Lula as federal President in 2006. Indeed, while the city itself is now under the auspices of a PSDB administration in the city hall, many of the surrounding cities in the ‘ABC’ conurbation are still under PT control, despite a PSDB Governor responsible for Sao Paulo State. What is more significant following the inevitable post-election ructions in the federal Congress is that Lula’s 2002 presidential opponent is locked into running the city of Sao Paulo while the state governor Geraldo Alckmin has emerged as Lula’s likely challenger for the post in 2006. Therefore the contest might have assumed more national significance than was previously thought. More results

Article published after the first round on 3 October 2004
São Paulo is key battleground
in Brazilian municipal elections
By Andrew Stevens, Political Editor

The Brazilian economic capital São Paulo emerged as the key battleground for supremacy between the parties in the recent Brazilian municipal elections, with a run-off between the two main parties scheduled for 31 October 2004. The elections are widely seen as a mid-term verdict on President Lula’s administration in Brasilia, with mixed fortunes for all concerned at this stage.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) was elected in 2002 on his fourth attempt at the presidency under the ticket of the left-leaning Workers’ Party (PT) that he founded following the country’s transition to democracy after the longstanding military dictatorship dissolved in the mid-80s. President Lula’s mandate is to deliver on the social programmes he promised to inaugurate during his campaign, such as the ‘Zero Hunger’ initiative designed to alleviate the poverty that blights most of the country, particularly the impoverished North East. However, this reforming zeal has been tempered by tough economic constraints laid down by his promise to stick to the terms of the deal signed with the IMF of his predecessor, the social democrat (PSDB) Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

São Paulo stands out politically as the country’s economic centre, housing its stock exchange and a significant number of manufacturing industries, not least automobile production. Its political weight is measured not only by its population of almost 17m but also its significance as the stage for key players in Brazil’s political parties. President Lula himself grew up in São Paulo state and the run-off scheduled later this month features Lula’s key Workers’ Party ally, the incumbent Mayor Marta Suplicy, and his opponent in the 2002 presidential race, former Health Minister Jose Serra of the PSDB. To say that the São Paulo mayoral race has great significance for the 2006 presidential race would be to understate matters. In short, the successful candidate must be seen to have at least the support of São Paulo.

It being Brazil, there is no shortage of colour or controversy in the race for the São Paulo mayoralty, especially in terms of the candidates. More worryingly however, the race took place against the backdrop of a spate of vigilante-style killings of the city’s homeless, thought to have been carried out by off-duty police officers. Naturally, crime took centre-stage as a hot topic, though public health did make more than one appearance, with the candidate’s clashing over the availability of decent healthcare for Paulistanos.

The incumbent Mayor Marta Suplicy, one of the most prominent municipal leaders in the world, was defending her record following her election in 2000. Mayor Marta is certainly well-connected within the ruling party, her former husband is the prominent Senator, Eduardo Suplicy, and her son is a rock-star. Marta shot to prominence politically after a career as a TV sexologist and was certain for election in 2000 in one of the PT’s strongholds. Her opponent Jose Serra of the PSDB is challenging her following a national political career, most notably as health minister and polled 44% of the vote, compared to Marta’s 36%. Paulo Maluf of the rightwing Progressive Party, who fought his campaign promising a massive public works programme, and Erundinha of the Brazilian Socialist Party were edged out in the first round and must now decide which candidate to support in the run-off. Both Maluf and Erundinha are former mayors of the city (the latter for the PT), though Maluf is seen as tainted following a money-laundering scandal recently.

Following the first round of elections, which saw voters in 5,562 municipalities go to the polls, a number of cities saw conclusive results and avoided second round run-offs. In particular, Rio de Janeiro’s incumbent Mayor Cesar Maia of the rightwing Liberal Front Party was re-elected with a strong vote following a virtual state of civil war in many of the city’s fevelas. The PT won convincingly in two large cities, Belo Horizonte and Recife, as well as in a clutch of smaller state capitals. As in São Paulo, the key PT stronghold of Porto Alegre, known to political anoraks the world over for its innovative Participatory Budget, also faces a second round run-off on 31 October.

Finally, the quirky story of the campaign outside of São Paulo was supplied in the small town of Viseu in the North of the country. One of the mayoral candidates had hoped to follow her lesbian partner, the outgoing mayor, into the town hall. However, Eulina Rabelo was barred from doing so because of an anti-corruption law that prohibits married couples from contesting elections after one another, despite same-sex partnerships not being recognised in the country.

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