Voters punish Brazil’s Workers’ Party in local elections

Support for party led by Lula collapses as it loses 60% of votes after 13 years in power

Brazil’s Workers Party suffered its worst-ever result at the polls as voters used Sunday’s local elections to punish it for a deep recession and a series of corruption scandals.

After 13 years in power the party saw its vote collapse across Brazil in a dramatic confirmation that it is now fighting to retain a seat at the top table of Brazilian politics following the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in August and the decision last month to try party founder and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for corruption.

With most results declared, the Workers Party has seen the number of municipalities it controls plunge from the 644 peak it achieved in 2012 to just 256 now, though it may pick up another handful once remote regions declare and run-off rounds are held in big cities in three weeks’ time. It means the party is now the 10th-largest in terms of town halls under its control.

Nationally its vote shrank from 17.3 million votes in 2012’s local elections to just 6.8 million on Sunday, a drop of 60 per cent. It is the first time since its foundation in 1980 that the party comes out of local elections with fewer elected officials than it had achieved four years previously.


Mr da Silva had sought to turn Sunday’s elections into a referendum on his party’s claim that Rousseff’s impeachment amounted to a coup and so strengthen its demand new general elections

But the party haemorrhaged support even among its traditional voters.

Poorer districts


São Paulo

, the party’s birthplace and the biggest city in

South America

, the conservative businessman João Doria became the city’s first mayor to be elected on the first round even winning poorer districts and slums that traditionally voted Workers Party.

The party's grip on the so-called red-belt of industrial satellite cities surrounding São Paulo was also broken and it was left in a humiliating third place in São Bernardo do Campo, Lula's home city and where he first rose to prominence as an independent union leader in the 1970s.

Of Brazil's 26 state capitals the Workers Party now only controls one, the small jungle city of Rio Branco, and has a slim chance of clinching a second in a run-off round in the north-eastern city of Recife.

Sunday’s big winner was the party’s traditional rival, the Social Democracy Party of Brazil which, as well as its banner victory in São Paulo, saw its vote and the number of municipalities it controls increase across Brazil, leaving it well placed to dispute 2018’s presidential election.

The Democratic Movement of Brazil Party of new president Michel Temer also performed well despite the Workers' Party's efforts to portray his government as illegitimate. It slightly increased the number of municipalities it controls, even though its vote dipped compared to four years ago.

But widespread dissatisfaction with Brazil's democracy was laid bare with electoral authorities saying that despite voting being obligatory, the total of abstentions, spoiled and blank ballots topped the first-placed candidate in 10 state capitals including the three most important of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America