Sao Paulo: Brazil`s long dominant Workers` Party looked close to losing control of the biggest city Sao Paulo, exit polls showed Sunday after nationwide municipal elections seen as marking a shift to the right.
An exit poll by Ibope showed Sao Paulo`s incumbent Workers` Party mayor, Fernando Haddad, trailing with 20 percent behind Joao Doria from the centrist PSDB, with 48 percent. Unless final results give Doria over 50 percent, the two will meet again in a second round runoff on October 30.
In Rio de Janeiro, the leader was Marcelo Crivella from the socially conservative Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), considered the political wing of the wealthy evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an exit poll showed.
Crivella, whose billionaire uncle founded the Universal Church, won 30 percent of the vote and looked set to face off against Marcelo Freixo from the leftist PSOL, who won 20 percent, according to an Ibope poll.
The elections for mayors and city governments across 5,568 municipalities in Latin America`s biggest country were the first since Dilma Rousseff of the Workers` Party lost the presidency in a bruising impeachment battle in August.
They were also a litmus test ahead of presidential elections in 2018.
Among the earliest to cast a ballot in the financial powerhouse Sao Paulo was Rousseff`s replacement, President Michel Temer from the center-right PMDB party.
Temer, who is deeply unpopular and was booed at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in August, abruptly changed his schedule to vote two hours earlier than previously announced, getting into the polling station before doors even opened to the public, an AFP reporter observed. According to Folha newspaper the change was to avoid protesters.
But despite widespread public mistrust of Temer, the PSDB and other parties friendly to the new president were forecast to reshape the landscape dominated by the Workers` Party for the last 13 years.
David Fleischer, a political analyst at Brasilia University, predicted the Workers` Party would end up with less than half the mayoral seats it won four years ago. "It will be a disaster for the party," he said.
Brazilians want change as they struggle through a devastating recession and the fallout from a massive embezzlement and bribery scheme centered on prestigious state oil company Petrobras.
"The elections are our chance to chance this scenario," said accounting student Wemerson Guimaraes, 21, as he voted in Rio.
In Sao Paulo, retiree Clara Nunes, 64, predicted "the Workers` Party will lose many votes in this election."
"I think next year, with new politicians coming in, the situation could get better," she said.The army reinforced security in nearly 500 towns and cities across the country following a string of candidate killings.
The latest fatality was Jose Gomes da Rocha, shot dead along with a police officer while campaigning in Itumbiara in the state of Goias on Wednesday.
G1 news site reported Sunday that seven polling stations have been attacked in the northeastern state of Maranhao, including an arson attack which damaged an electronic voting machine.
Shots were also fired at the mayor of Nova Erechim, in southern Brazil, who is not seeking reelection in Sunday`s polls, G1 reported.
In Rio de Janeiro, 15 candidates or politicians have been murdered over the last 10 months, police say. Police numbers are being doubled in the state for the election, with officers guarding the transport of ballot boxes and the voting stations.
Suspicions in at least some of the cases have fallen on so-called militias -- protection rackets formed by former or rogue police officers.
O Globo newspaper reported that militias were even forcing candidates to pay an "election tax" to campaign in areas under their control, with fees running from 15,000 to 120,000 reais ($4,600 to $37,000).