On top of this is a heavy-handed campaign by Romeu Zema, the right-wing governor of Minas Gerais, and scores of mayors to convince constituents that only Mr Bolsonaro can guarantee such largesse. At a rally on October 18th in Montes Claros, the biggest city in northern Minas, huge television screens flashed images of food baskets and phrases such as “600 REAIS” and “BOLSONARO PAYS MORE”. The president was flanked by Mr Zema, who was re-elected on October 2nd with 56% of the vote, and Humberto Souto, the mayor of Montes Claros, who won in 2020 with 85%. Mr Zema proclaimed that only Mr Bolsonaro could guarantee “employment and a future”. Mr Souto urged residents to vote for Mr Bolsonaro so that Brazil “doesn’t fall into the same disaster as Venezuela”.
Montes Claros is one of 357 cities that have historically voted for Lula’s Workers’ Party (pt), but voted for Mr Bolsonaro or another candidate in 2018. It was won back by the pt on October 2nd. So were 225 other cities, nearly half of them in Minas. Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign has made flipping them again a priority. In his headquarters Mr Freitas, the congressman, points at a map of the region in which each municipality is marked with a coloured pin. The red ones represent mayors allied with Lula. The green ones “are my mayors”. His access to federal funds for hospitals and roads helped them win races in 2020. In exchange, he says, they will convince constituents to vote for Mr Bolsonaro.
Such pressure may work with some. Minas was once a gold-mining hub in which slaves and poor workers laboured under the Portuguese. In the 20th century, coronelismo, or “rule of the colonels”, gave way to clientelism. Laurindo Mekie, a historian at the State University of Montes Claros, dubbed the municipality “the city of favours” because of the way politicians in the mid-20th century traded personal favours for poor people’s votes. Dependency on government benefits today often translates into votes for the mayor’s allies running for state and federal Congress.
But according to Mr Mekie there exists an “unspoken rule” that, when it comes to the president, voters are free to choose. Most mayors in Minas did not put Mr Bolsonaro’s number, 22, on flyers known as “little saints,” which voters carry on election day to remember their choices for each federal and state office. To do so could be political suicide in Lula-leaning regions. Mr Zema did not declare support for Mr Bolsonaro until after the first round. As a result, millions of mineiros “voted Luzema”, casting ballots for both Lula and Mr Zema despite their ideological differences.