SAO PAULO – President Jair Bolsonaro suffered big losses in Brazil's just-completed municipal elections, with only five mayoral candidates he supported winning their races and none of them in the most important cities.
The president's worst rebuff came in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, where Mayor Marcelo Crivella was battered in a runoff election Sunday, losing to his center-right predecessor, Eduardo Paes, by 64% to 36%. Crivella, an evangelical pastor, repeatedly used the president in his campaign to try to turn his fortunes.
Another big defeat for Bolsonaro came in Fortaleza, Brazil's fifth most populous city, where little known center-left candidate Sarto Nogueira topped Wagner Gomes, the president's favorite, 51.5% to 48.5%. Gomes had led opinion polls before the campaign began and often displayed Bolsonaro's support, but he sought to distance himself in the campaign's waning days.
A Bolsonaro candidate also lost in Belem, one of the capitals of the Amazon, though it was a close vote. Leftist Edmilson Rodrigues edged Everaldo Iguchi and will be the city's mayor for a third time.
The poor showing by Bolsonaro's candidates began shaping up in the first round of municipal elections two weeks ago.
Sao Paulo, a metropolis of more than 12 million people that is Brazil's biggest city, gave just 10% of its vote to Bolsonaro's candidate, Celso Russomanno, who finished fourth. Sunday's runoff was between two critics of the president, and resulted in center-right Mayor Bruno Covas easily winning reelection over socialist Guilherme Boulos by 60% to 40%.
Other candidates supported by Bolsonaro also failed to make it into Sunday's runoffs in losing by wide margins in populated state capitals like Belo Horizonte, Recife and Manaus. His candidate also lost in Santos, one of the most important cities of Sao Paulo state.
Of the 78 candidates who even ran by adding Bolsonaro’s name to their own on the ballot, only one won and that was one of the president's sons, according to Brazil's top electoral court. Carlos Bolsonaro, a key member of his father's social media team, kept his seat on the Rio council with more than 71,000 votes — though that was fewer than the 106,000 he got four years ago.
“Bolsonaro is clearly the biggest loser of the mayoral races,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University. “He failed to start a party, he failed to make his candidates stronger. It was almost as if he ignored these elections, but they gave a lot of leverage to parties he will have to talk to in congress. He is a weaker president because of these defeats.”
The five Bolsonaro mayoral candidates who won did so in mid-size cities.
In the first round two weeks ago, two candidates endorsed by the president won outright. Francisco de Assis de Moraes Souza, better known as Mao Santa (Holy Hand), won in Parnaiba, a city of 150,000 people in the impoverished state of Piaui. Gustavo Nunes was elected in Ipatinga, a prosperous city with an iron-ore based economy and 263,000 residents.
The three who won their runoffs Sunday received the president's endorsement only after the first vote. Tiao Bocalom won in Rio Branco, a state capital of 400,000 people near the border with Bolivia. Roberto Naves was elected in Anapolis, a city of 360,000 in central Brazil. Nelson Ruas dos Santos won in Sao Goncalo, a city of 337,000 outside Rio.
Some of the winners Sunday who weren't backed by Bolsonaro sent messages that their allies took to be aimed at the president.
“It is possible to be in politics without hatred,” Sao Paulo's incumbent mayor said after his victory. “There are only a few days left for denialists and obscurantism.” Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria, the main sponsor of Covas' candidacy, is a potential bidder for the presidency in 2022.
Eduardo Paes, the winner in Rio, said his triumph was “a victory of politics over radicalism.”
After voting in Rio, Bolsonaro did not reply about the poor showing of his candidates.