Sao Paulo /AFP
Brazilians furious at recession and corruption voted on Sunday in municipal elections amid heightened security after a series of murders of candidates.
Voting, which is mandatory in Brazil, got underway at 8:00 am (1100 GMT), with long lines immediately forming outside polling stations.
Among the first to cast his ballot in the financial capital Sao Paulo was President Michel Temer from the center-left PMDB party, who took over the presidency in August after turning on his former leftist ally Dilma Rousseff and helping to force her from the top job in an impeachment vote.
That impeachment upheaval was part of the backdrop to the tense first round of the municipal elections, which will go to a runoff round on October 30 in races where no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
Brazilians also want change as they struggle through a devastating recession and the fallout from a massive embezzlement and bribery scheme centered on prestigious state oil company Petrobras. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, in power for the last 13 years, was predicted to be in for a hammering.
The main battles were in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where the incumbent Workers’ Party mayor, Fernando Haddad, risks being knocked out.
“The mayors’ posts held by the Workers’ Party will fall to less than half of those they won four years ago,” political analyst David Fleischer at Brasilia University said, predicting “disaster for the party.”
Bullets and ballots
The gunning down of a string of candidates has cast a shadow over the already toxic political atmosphere.
The latest victim was Jose Gomes da Rocha, running for mayor in Itumbiara in the state of Goias.
He was shot dead Wednesday, along with a police officer, while campaigning. The state’s deputy governor was wounded in the attack in which the gunman was killed by security guards.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes called the incident “shocking.”
Worries about violence have prompted deployment during the election of tens of thousands of troops to more than 400 municipalities, the defense minister said Friday.
In the main hotspot, Rio de Janeiro, 15 candidates or politicians have been murdered over the last 10 months, police say.
Police numbers are being doubled in the state for the election, with officers guarding the transport of ballot boxes and the voting stations.
“The police are prepared to secure the voting sites and to guarantee that everyone can exercise the right to vote,” Colonel Luis Henrique Marinho Pires from police headquarters told the G1 news site.
Officials have given few details about investigations into the murders but suspicions in at least some of the cases are falling on so-called militias — gangs formed by former or rogue police officers.
O Globo newspaper reported that militias were even forcing candidates to pay an “election tax” to campaign in areas under their control, with fees running from 15,000 to 120,000 reais ($4,600 to $37,000).
Rightwing and a prayer
In another sign of changing times, conservative evangelist candidates are running strongly in Rio and Sao Paulo.
Pre-election polls put Joao Doria from the rightwing PSDB party leading the pack in Sao Paulo, but under the 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a runoff at the end of the month. New polls on Saturday showed a strong challenge for the second place from Celso Russomanno from the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), considered the political wing of the wealthy evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
Ibope pollsters put Russomanno in a comfortable second place, with the Workers’ Party incumbent Haddad at fourth. A rival Datafolha poll showed Haddad and Russomanno tied in second, while Doria had shot ahead from previous predictions to 44 percent.
Another PRB candidate, Marcelo Crivella, is in pole position in Rio. As well as being a senator, he’s a bishop in the Universal Church.
Evangelists are riding a national rightward shift, already gaining a record number of seats in Congress during the 2014 elections.
“This is linked to the most conservative era the country has seen, along with a wave of rejection of traditional politics,” Mauro Paulino, head of the polling institute Datafolha said.