The race to become mayor of Brazil’s financial capital of São Paulo has turned dirty less than two weeks ahead of run-off elections.
The vote in the western hemisphere’s biggest city will have vital importance for presidential and congressional elections in two years’ time, because mayors and councillors in Brazil are powerful vote-gatherers.
Marta Suplicy, the candidate for the leftwing PT party of Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, launched a veiled personal attack at the weekend on the probity of Gilberto Kassab, the centre-right Democrat incumbent.
The change in tactics points to the national significance of Brazil’s biggest mayoral run-off on October 26, after more than 5,500 first round votes on October 5.
“Never mind who becomes mayor of São Paulo. This will decide who runs for president in 2010,” said Luciano Dias, a political consultant in Brasília.
“If Kassab wins by a big margin, Serra [José Serra of the centrist opposition PSDB, who backed Mr Kassab] will immediately become the opposition candidate. He’ll have beaten Marta, Lula and the federal government all in one go.”
Ms Suplicy’s campaign began running television advertisements on Sunday asking a series of leading questions about Mr Kassab.
Most hint at corruption. But the final question – “Is he married? Does he have any children?” – has caused outcry even among Ms Suplicy’s supporters. Mr Kassab has denied dishonesty, as well as long-running rumours that he is gay, and Ms Suplicy’s campaign may have backfired: a court has ordered the advert to be withdrawn after complaints from gay groups that support her.
The sudden change in tone follows a revival in the fortunes of Mr Kassab, who is the runaway leader in opinion polls after trailing for months.
Mr Serra – who was succeeded by Mr Kassab, his vice-mayor, when he stood down to run successfully for state governor in 2006 – is one of two potential PSDB candidates for the presidency. The other is Aécio Neves, governor of Minas Gerais.
Mr Serra took a gamble in backing Mr Kassab against Geraldo Alckmin, the PSDB’s official mayoral candidate who came third on October 5 after running against the wishes of many in his own party. Mr Kassab, confounding all prior opinion polls, won the first round, beating Ms Suplicy by a narrow margin.
Mr Neves’ presidential hopes, meanwhile, have suffered a blow, with his candidate for mayor in the state capital of Belo Horizonte running second in opinion polls before the run-off.