Brazil votes in local polls marked by virus

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


Brazilians began voting Sunday in municipal elections that will test the strength of the country's rightward shift under President Jair Bolsonaro, with the coronavirus pandemic looming large -- and likely denting turnout.

These are the first elections since Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain often compared to US President Donald Trump, surged to victory in 2018, upending the political gameboard in Latin America's biggest economy.

Postponed six weeks because of the pandemic, the vote already bears the imprint of Covid-19, which has killed more than 165,000 people in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.

The authorities are urging Brazil's 148 million voters to bring their own pens, respect social distancing guidelines and disinfect their hands multiple times at their polling stations.

Voters are choosing the South American giant's 5,568 mayors and city councils, with analysts watching to see where the various political camps stand midway to the next presidential elections in 2022.

Bolsonaro heads into Sunday's first-round vote weakened by his political idol Trump's loss in the US and his controversial handling of the virus, which he has downplayed as a "little flu."

But his approval numbers are strong -- more than 40 percent recently -- and he still excels at whipping his hardline base into a frenzy with his social media diatribes.

The president's picks do not look set to win Brazil's biggest cities.

However, analysts say the country is likely headed for a new wave of conservative victories, elevating a raft of Evangelical candidates and ex-police and -soldiers who have made religion and security central in their campaigns.

Early results are expected around 10:00 pm (0100 GMT Monday).

A second round will be held on November 29 for large cities where no candidate wins more than half the vote in the first round.