SAO PAULO — Brazil's ruling Workers Party (PT) emerged stronger from Sunday's nationwide municipal polls, leaving it well positioned for the 2014 presidential elections, analysts say.
The leftist PT of President Dilma Rousseff and her popular predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a total of 635 mayoral races, including in Sao Paulo, the country's economic capital, although it lost in key northeastern state capitals such as Recife, Fortaleza and Salvador.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous and wealthiest city, Fernando Haddad, a 49-year-old Lula protege, defeated veteran opposition candidate Jose Serra in a runoff vote 55.6 percent to 44.4 percent.
The 70-year-old Serra, a former mayor and state governor, had lost to Rousseff in the 2010 presidential election.
Haddad's decisive victory with direct support from Lula and Rousseff, coupled with the PT's overall good performance nationwide, puts the ruling party in a strong position ahead of the 2014 presidential election, according to many analysts.
"The PT needed to prevail in Sao Paulo in order to win the 2014 presidential contest and it has done so," said Andre Cesar, a political analyst at the Prospectiva consulting firm.
The hugely popular Lula, who ruled this booming country from 2003 to 2010, showed that his clout remains intact despite his two-year absence from the political stage due to larynx cancer and a political corruption scandal that ensnared his party and several of his key aides.
"Lula is the big winner of this election and he will be even more influential in 2014," Cesar noted.
In his victory speech, Haddad conceded as much, expressing gratitude to his mentor who had named him education minister and later imposed him as the PT's mayoral candidate in Sao Paulo.
"I want to thank president Lula from the bottom of my heart. Without him I could not have won this election," he said.
Many analysts had expected Haddad and the PT in general to suffer from the fallout of the congressional vote-buying scandal.
Twenty-five of 37 former ministers, lawmakers, businessmen and bankers facing prosecution before the Supreme Court have been charged with corruption over a 2002 to 2005 vote-buying scheme in Congress during Lula's first term.
They include Lula's former chief of staff Jose Dirceu. While Lula was cleared, the scandal nearly cost the 66-year-old his re-election in 2006.
But the high-profile trial "did not have a major impact despite all the media hype. The people of Sao Paulo said no to business as usual," said political analyst Evaraldo Moraes.
"The Mensalao (trial) had no impact because voters in municipal elections focus on local issues (health, transport, flooding) and corruption comes last," said another expert, David Fleischer.
The poll results reflected the traditional balance of power between the three major parties in this vibrant democracy of 194 million people.
The centrist PMDB, a member of the ruling coalition, remains the country's leading party, particularly in small towns, but it lost significant ground, winning only 1,024 races against 1,207 in 2008.
The opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party remains in second place nationally, winning 702 races, down from 788 four years ago.
The PT is still in third place, capturing 635 city halls, up 14 percent from 558 in 2008.
The ruling party also won the largest number of cities of more than 200,000 people but only four state capitals, compared with six in 2008 and nine in 2004.
But the 10-member ruling coalition prevailed in 17 of the country's 26 state capitals, including Rio.
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