President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's ruling Workers Party (PT) appeared to have held its ground in Brazil's municipal elections on Sunday but did worse than expected in São Paulo, the country's largest city and the main prize of the day.
The PT won mayoral races in six of 27 state capitals and will compete in the October 26 run-off vote in another three state capitals. The party currently rules eight state capitals totaling 17 of Brazil's largest cities.
Lula's party won the northeastern state capitals of Recife (Pernambuco state) and Fortaleza (Ceará), the southeastern capital of Vitória (Espírito Santo), as well as the northern state capitals of Porto Velho (Roraima), Palmas (Tocantins) and Rio Branco (Acre), official results showed. Party officials said they had also done well in smaller cities and celebrated the election results.
"We are satisfied. This is our best performance yet (in municipal elections)," Paulo Ferreira, PT Treasurer, was quoted by the foreign press.
However in São Paulo, Brazil's financial and industrial capital, Marta Suplicy from PT won 32.5% of the vote, against 33.7% for the incumbent mayor, Gilberto Kassab of the conservative Liberal Front Party (PFL).
An opinion poll on Thursday had projected a 9 percentage point lead for Suplicy over Kassab in São Paulo, a city of 17 million people. Now they must face the October 26 run off.
Suplicy had Lula da Silva's explicit backing, something widely assumed to assure her if not of outright victory, at least of certainty of going into a run-off at the end of the month with a clear lead.
Moreover during much of the campaign Kassab shared the opposition vote in opinion polls with Geraldo Alckmin of the social democratic PSDB.Â Alckmin, who lost to Lula in the 2006 presidential election, saw second place taken from him as campaigning progressed and his votes at the end of the month will be decisive.
Benefiting from Brazil's longest economic expansion in decades, Lula has a record 70%Â approval and the São Paulo results come as a surprise with effects for the 2010 presidential election and his succession.
The Brazilian media reported that in meetings with ministers last week Lula made clear his concern that economic growth should not be allowed to fall far short of target. Guido Mantega, finance minister, said at the weekend that while the government's previous target of 5.5% may not be met, it was confident of growth of about 4.5%.
Mantega promised measures to ensure the lower target would be met but did not specify them. Brazil's central bank last week reduced reserve requirements on banks for a second time to provide more finance for farmers and exporters, whose trade finance lines have evaporated over the past three weeks because of the world financial meltdown.
Electoral authorities reported no major fraud or violence in the country while polls were open, Brazil is one of the world's largest democracies with around 190 million people. Federal troops patrolled parts of violence-plagued Rio de Janeiro, where drug gangs and militias had threatened some candidates during the campaign.
"We were extremely worried about the situation in Rio de Janeiro, the situation was explosive. Today it is not, things are normal," Carlos Ayres Britto, head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, told a news conference in Brazilian capital Brasília.
In Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party got 31% of the vote and, in a run-off, will face self-professed gay Fernando Gabeira of the Green Party who defends the legalization of marijuana. Gabeira, who in 1969 as a leftist guerrilla helped to kidnap the American ambassador toÂ Brazil, Charles Burke Elbrick, won 25% of the votes.