Jair Bolsonaro – already smarting from Donald Trump’s defeat – has suffered a further setback after candidates he had championed performed dismally in municipal elections.
Sunday’s vote provided the first electoral opportunity to gauge the health of the Brazilian president’s anti-establishment movement since the populist’s shock election victory in 2018.
The results, which included painful defeats for Bolsonarista candidates in key cities and the resurgence of politicians from mainstream parties, suggest it is an ailing force.
“The far-right wave that carried Bolsonaro to the presidency turned into a ripple in 2020,” claimed the political commentator Josias de Souza in his dissection of the vote.
Bolsonaro, who has yet to publicly recognise Joe Biden’s victory over his top international ally, had endorsed rightwing candidates in six state capitals – four of whom suffered heavy defeats.
In the Amazon city of Manaus, Bolsonaro’s pick, a friend of four-decades called Alfredo Menezes, finished fifth. In Recife, Patrícia Domingos – who Bolsonaro had vowed would rid Brazil’s north-east of “communism” – came fourth.
In Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third city, Bolsonaro’s candidate, a 23-year-old conservative activist called Bruno Engler, was thrashed by the incumbent Alexandre Kalil, who won more than 63% of the vote.
But Souza claimed that “of all the Waterloos inflicted on Bolsonaro on Sunday, the most devastating was in São Paulo”.
There, in Brazil’s largest and most economically powerful city, Bolsonaro’s choice, Celso Russomanno, was trounced by the centre-right incumbent, Bruno Covas, and a rising leftwing star called Guilherme Boulos. Covas and Boulos will face off in a second round on 29 November.
“We have beaten Bolsonaro – we have beaten his project of hatred, backwardness and lies that tried to take root in the city of São Paulo,” Boulos celebrated.
São Paulo’s governor, João Doria, claimed: “Democracy has won and Bolsonaro has lost”.
Rio’s unpopular evangelical mayor, Marcelo Crivella, reached the second round but is widely tipped to lose. One newspaper branded Sunday’s results “the Bolsonarista breakdown”.
Elsewhere, there were humiliating defeats or hiccups for other candidates linked to Bolsonaro.
The president’s cousin, Marcos Bolsonaro, managed only 1,340 votes – 4% of the total – in his bid to become mayor of the town of Jaboticabal.
The president’s ex-wife, Rogéria Bolsonaro, failed to become a Rio councillor after receiving just 2,033 votes.
Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos, secured a second term in Rio’s city hall but received 36,000 fewer votes than in the last election and lost his title as Rio’s most voted councillor to a socialist.
In the southern town of Brusque one would-be councillor who tried to boost his chances by running under the monicker “Donald Trump Bolsonaro” secured just 107 votes – 0.7% of the total – finishing in 128th place.
Bolsonaro tried to shift the narrative, claiming the results boded well for his re-election chances in 2022 and were “a historic defeat” for the left. But analysts said the opposite was true, with a new generation of leftwing politicians performing well.
As well as Boulos, 38, there were strong showings from Manuela D’Ávila, 39, the Communist party candidate in Porto Alegre, Marília Arraes, 36, the Workers’ party candidate in Recife, and João Campos, 26, the Brazilian Socialist party candidate in the same city.
Monica Benício, 34, the widow of murdered leftwing councillor Marielle Franco, was elected to Rio’s city hall for the Socialism and Liberty party.
“The left rejuvenated on Sunday,” reported the Rio broadsheet O Globo.
The election comes at a testing time for Bolsonaro. Trump’s defeat has robbed his populist project of a key source of legitimacy, corruption investigators are reportedly closing in on two of his politician sons, and polls show support slipping in several major cities.
Meanwhile, more than 165,000 Brazilians have died because of a coronavirus epidemic critics claim Bolsonaro has catastrophically mishandled. Last week, with hints that Brazil’s outbreak was again worsening, Brazil’s president rejected warnings of a “second wave” as “jibber-jagger”.