Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his party, the PT (Workers Party) suffered a serious blow Sunday, October 26, inÂ Brazil's main city São Paulo, where incumbent conservative mayor Gilberto Kassab comfortably won a second period, defeating Marta Suplicy in the run off by over 20 points.
Although Lula's Workers Party is poised to gain power in six big cities, totaling 3.4 million voters, it lost the biggest prize and springboard for the next presidential election in 2010, the city of São Paulo, which offers over 8 million voters.
Kassab, from the DEM party, won with 60.72% of the votes against his opponent, Marta Suplicy's 39.28%. His victory boosts the opposition's chances for the presidential election of 2010, when Lula da Silva is banned from running for a third mandate.
However in Rio do Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, candidate for the Brazilian Democratic Movement, PMDB, and an important ally of President Lula da Silva won a narrow victory in the run off against Fernando Gabeira from the Green Party, an ex-guerrilla who once kidnapped a US ambassador. The result was 50.83% for Paes against 49.17% for Gabeira.
In São Paulo both candidates ran on similar platforms, but Suplicy, who served as Tourism minister in Lula's administration and is a former São Paulo mayor has been shunned because of personality and perceptions of arrogance, said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasília.
Despite the global financial crisis that has cut Brazil's currency by half, none of the leading candidates backed off promises of improved roads, schools, and public transportation and health services.
In Brazil, mayors are powerful vote gatherers in nationwide presidential and congressional elections. Kassab's victory means he almost certainly will back the candidacy of São Paulo State Governor José Serra, according to Fleischer. Lula beat Serra in Brazil's 2002 presidential race.
"Serra will not only win his party's nomination, he stands a good chance of winning the 2010 elections," Fleischer said.
In Rio de Janeiro, Fernando Gabeira, 67, a guerrilla-turned-congressman who in 1969 masterminded the abduction of the US ambassador to Rio, Charles Elbrick, to protest the military dictatorship, was in a technical tie with his opponent before momentum shifted to Eduardo Paes, 39.
Gabeira is one of several former revolutionaries who are heavily involved in current politics. Lula's Social communication minister, Franklin Martins, also took part in Elbrick's kidnapping, and chief of staff Dilma Rousseff, a likely presidential contender in 2010, played a leading role in the armed resistance to the 1964-1985 dictatorship.
President Lula's Workers' Party put in a strong showing in first-round voting October 5, winning elections in 137 cities including six of 27 state capitals.