Fernando Haddad, a former education minister, defeated José Serra, a longtime powerhouse of the Brazilian center-right, in today’s mayoral runoff in Brazil’s most populous city, São Paulo amid several runoffs from municipal elections in Brazil on Oct. 14.
The result will be a setback to Serra’s national aspirations, but will embolden Haddad’s party, the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party), the current president Dilma Rousseff, and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In particular, Haddad is seen very much as Lula’s protégé, and Lula campaigned vigorously on his behalf. Haddad won the runoff with just about 56% of the vote to just 44% for Serra. Haddad had served as education minister for Lula first, then Rousseff, since 2005, stepping down earlier this year to run for mayor. As education minister, Haddad instituted national standardized testing in Brazil.
His victory will give Brazil’s governing party control over Brazil’s primary city for the first time in eight years.
Serra has been a fixture in Brazilian politics since the 1980s, when he was first elected as a federal deputy to the Brazilian congress. He served as a minister of planning, then as a minister of health, in the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994 to 2002), which preceded Lula’s presidency. After losing the presidential race to Lula in 2002, Serra became the mayor of São Paulo from 2005 to 2006, leaving in the middle of his term to run for the position of governor of São Paulo state, which he won and held from 2007 to 2010. His 2010 presidential run was much more competitive, but he still lost to Rousseff in a runoff by a 56% to 44% margin.
In many ways, the mayoral race was seen as the continuation of the long-running fight between the Lula and Serra that began with the 2002 presidential election — both Lula and Serra are thought to be considering a run in the 2014 presidential election as well. Lula, who was limited from seeking three consecutive terms, stepped aside on behalf of his successor, Rousseff, and it is uncertain if she will seek reelection in her own right.
Serra will likely face stiff competition from within his own party, the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party), for the nomination — including the current governor of São Paulo state, Geraldo Alckmin, who lost to Lula in the 2006 presidential election, and Aécio Neves, a federal senator and the former governor of the state of Minas Gerais.
It seems likely that one of the factors in the election was that paulistanos wanted to elect full-time mayor rather than give Serra another platform for higher office, especially after Serra left the mayor’s office in 2006 just two years into his term to run for higher office.
Given that the region has been a stronghold for the ‘toucans’ (the nickname for the PSDB), Serra’s defeat is a stinging blow.
Serra actually ended up in first place after the first round — two weeks ago, he won 30.75% to just 28.99% for Haddad. Meanwhile, the frontrunner throughout much of the campaign, Celso Russomanno, a television consumer advocate in the 1990s and candidate of the Partido Republicano Brasileiro (PRB, Brazilian Republican Party), fell short with just 21.60%. Russomanno had received the support of the evangelist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and had made inroads into the traditional voter base of the Workers Party. With Russomanno eliminated from the race, however, many of those supporters went back to the Workers Party’s candidate, Haddad.