Evangelical bishop elected mayor of Rio: Exit poll

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - An evangelical mega-church bishop who once branded Catholics demons was elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday (Oct 30), an exit poll said, in nationwide municipal elections confirming Brazil's shift to the right.

This was the second round of balloting for city halls around Latin America's biggest country and confirmed the trend seen in Oct 2 polls which ended in humiliation for the former governing Workers' Party.

Most polling stations closed at 1900 GMT, with results due to come in rapidly.

Already in the first round, the Workers' Party lost about two thirds of the mayor's posts it had won in 2012 elections, including Brazil's largest city Sao Paulo.

The drubbing underlined the decline of a party founded by ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and comes after the removal of his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial in August.

The biggest winner was the center-right PMDB party of new President Michel Temer.

Sunday's runoff elections - contests in which no outright winners won during the first round - featured a colorful battle for Rio's post-Olympics future between socialist Marcelo Freixo and evangelical Marcelo Crivella, from the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB).

Crivella - a bishop in the giant Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded by his billionaire uncle - won with an easy 57 to 43 per cent, an Ibope exit poll said.

He has promised to bring law and order to Rio, a city beset by high crime. Despite billions of dollars in investments for the Olympic Games this year the city also suffers from ramshackle infrastructure, including a lack of basic sanitation for many in the impoverished favela neighbourhoods.

Casting his vote in Copacabana, Crivella said he was confident of victory and would dedicate himself "above all to health, education, transport and security."

Evangelical politicians are advancing steadily nationwide, helped by disgust over revelations of systemic corruption among leading politicians and executives during the Workers' Party era. The evangelical message has also taken root among the poor, who earlier would have been expected to vote more along leftist lines.

However, Crivella has had to work hard to distance himself from statements he made in a book he wrote in 1999 in which he described Roman Catholics as "demonic" and claimed that Hindus drank their children's blood. The 59-year-old has also described homosexuality as evil and African religions as worshipping "evil spirits."

Freixo, 49, of the Socialism and Freedom Party, advocated socially liberal policies. He won strong support among the city's cultural elite and pro-gay activists.

He made inroads in the final days of campaigning, reducing Crivella's 30-point lead to 16, helped by leaked reports about scandals in the evangelist's past.

"The fact is that we have already won the election with respect to honest politics and democratic campaigning," Freixo said after casting his vote.

Mauricio Santoro, a political analyst at Rio de Janeiro State University, said Brazilians are rejecting mainstream politicians and that Crivella and Freixo are signs of the polarized times.

"How is it possible that in Rio de Janeiro, a city of joy and openness about sexuality, there will be a mayor who is very conservative, discriminates and opposes Afro-Brazilian religions? The (centrist) alliance that governed the city has broken," he said.

Although Brazil's evangelical movement portrays itself as a positive force in corrupt Brazil, its leaders have themselves come under fire.

Former speaker of congress Eduardo Cunha - a prominent evangelist who was one of the main instigators of Rousseff's impeachment process - has since been arrested for allegedly taking millions of dollars in bribes.