In Brazil's rightward shift, evangelical bishop favored to win Rio

by Reuters
Sunday, 30 October 2016 18:26 GMT

Senator Marcelo Crivella, candidate for Rio de Janeiro mayor, talks with journalists after voting the during municipal elections at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

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"It's an important election to change the old way of doing things," said an early voter

By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - An evangelical bishop is expected to be elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday in a second round of municipal voting that already punished the leftist party and allies who dominated Brazil's presidency and major cities for over a decade.

Marcelo Crivella, a controversial conservative who is a senator, bishop and nephew of the founder of an evangelical megachurch, maintained a lead in opinion polls over a progressive former schoolteacher to run Brazil's second biggest city. He appeared to weather an uproar over his past comments against homosexuality and Catholicism, the dominant religion in Latin America's largest country.

Crivella's expected success on Sunday, partly fueled by the growing influence of evangelical voters, also underscores a rightward shift in Brazil following the 13-year reign of the leftist Workers Party, which presided over a long economic boom before cratering during the recession and an historic corruption scandal.

But the elections, which toppled many incumbents in a first round of voting earlier this month, are also a broader renunciation of the status quo, with voters frustrated by a second year of recession and the giant kickback scandal that has led to the arrest dozens of political and corporate chieftains.

"It's an important election to change the old way of doing things," said Rafael Mello, a civil servant who voted Sunday morning in Rio.

In the first round of voting, just weeks after lawmakers impeached former President Dilma Rousseff because of budget irregularities by her Workers Party government, two-term Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, a one-time Rousseff ally, failed to secure a place in the runoff for his hand-picked successor candidate.

In São Paulo, Brazil's biggest city and the cradle of the Workers Party, voters ousted Mayor Fernando Haddad, once considered one of the party's rising stars. The Workers Party held onto only one of the state capitals it had previously occupied.

Now, conservative candidates in Sunday's runoff races are expected to further cement Brazil's move away from the left. In Belo Horizonte, capital of the rich southeastern state of Minas Gerais, voting will test the strength of one faction of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party, or PSDB, against a smaller center-right party.

The PSDB, which had been the chief opposition to the Workers Party, in the first round won São Paulo and other important cities. It now faces an internal power struggle as key PSDB leaders consolidate influence through the candidates they support.

The victory by wealthy businessman João Doria in São Paulo fortified Geraldo Alckmin, the governor of that state and a possible presidential candidate in 2018, who pushed for Doria despite opposition from other PSDB leaders.

If the party's candidate in Belo Horizonte, João Leite, is defeated, it would be considered a defeat for Aecio Neves, another PSDB leader who was the party's candidate against Rousseff in 2014.

Crivella, the Rio frontrunner, hails from the Brazilian Republican Party, a relatively new conservative party. His leftist rival, Marcelo Freixo, represents the Socialism and Liberty Party, which broke away from the Workers' Party over a decade ago to focus on human rights and health and social issues.

Although Freixo trimmed a once-towering lead by Crivella in recent polls, and on Sunday predicted an upset, most analysts expected his momentum to fall short.

Polls close at 5 p.m. in Brazil (1900 GMT), with results expected shortly thereafter. (Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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