Regular listeners to Monocle 24 will know that I recently spoke about how São Paulo was at risk of electing a populist mayor, a move that would undoubtedly damage the image of the city. How wrong I was.
I wasn’t the only one. The majority of the Brazilian press didn’t predict the wave of reaction against candidate Celso Russomanno, who ended up in third place. The Workers Party and the centre right Social Democratic candidates go to the second round in the mayoral elections this Sunday. Although, I have to admit, the result was the closest the city has ever seen.
The Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad is currently 17 points ahead of his centre-right opponent José Serra. This is surprising – in the beginning of the campaign he was in a distant third place, and even Lula and Dilma Rousseff’s support didn’t manage to increase his chances.
But at the same time, José Serra’s increasing conservatism has done him harm. He’s also 70 years old, he’s been mayor of São Paulo before and has even tried running for president. People are beginning to ask whether it’s time for something new. It’s going to be a tough battle for him: 52 per cent of São Paulo residents – or Paulistanos – say they would never vote for him.
It seems that my fellow Paulistanos are ready to forego their stereotypically conservative image this time around. Recent research by Datafolha, inspired by the Pew Research Center, shows a much more even spread of ideologies within the city’s populace. While 33 per cent of Paulistanos are considered conservative, 28 per cent are liberal, and 23 per cent somewhere in between. So while, for example, the vast majority of Paulistanos still think the use of drugs should remain illegal, on the other hand a similar proportion have a pro-gay stance.
It’s not just São Paulo who is choosing its mayor. A second round of voting is taking place in 50 Brazilian cities and there are other important battles happening around the country. In the north-eastern city of Salvador, where incumbent João Henrique Carneiro must step down, right-wing candidate ACM Neto is currently ahead of Nelson Pellegrino of the Workers Party. Dilma is now increasing her public support for Pellegrino in an effort to boost his ratings.
Overall though, as in São Paulo, it’s looking like good news for the Workers Party and its allies. It’s predicted they will end up governing nearly three quarters of Brazil’s population.
The 2014 presidential elections still look like a shoo-in for Dilma but there are strong contenders such as Eduardo Campos, leader of the rising leftist party PSB or even playboy Aécio Neves from centre-right PSDB.
For now, I will be watching anxiously for the results this Sunday, which could give a necessary boost to my beloved home city. And this time, the electoral race won’t be competing with the soap opera Avenida Brasil, whose latest series came to an end on Friday. Even Dilma had to accept that this was an event more important than politics.