Evangelical bishop leads election race for Rio mayor

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - A gospel-singing evangelical bishop with a controversial past is favored to be elected the new mayor of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Various towns and cities across Brazil are holding runoff votes after a first round on October 2 saw the country's former governing party (PT) humiliated.

The municipal polls are a gauge of how Brazil is shifting to the right ahead of presidential elections in 2018.

The most closely-watched race is in Rio, host of last month's Olympic Games.

Its outgoing mayor Eduardo Paes is a member of the center-right PMDB party of Brazil's unpopular President Michel Temer.

Now Marcelo Crivella, 59, from the conservative Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), is expected to win the vote.

A senator and former missionary in Africa, Crivella once wrote that homosexuality was a "terrible evil."

His party is considered the political wing of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded by Crivella's billionaire uncle.

Crivella has promised a tough crackdown on violent crime in the troubled metropolis.

Opinion polls have given him a lead of up to 20 points over his leftist rival Marcelo Freixo.

Freixo, 49, of the Socialism and Freedom Party, proposes socially liberal policies.

- Workers' Party down -

The Workers' Party was once a strong force in Brazilian politics, but has fallen low.

Dilma Rousseff lost the presidency in August after being impeached for allegedly fiddling state accounts.

That ended 13 years of PT government in Brazil. Under the PT, Latin America's biggest economy soared before plunging into recession.

Rousseff's predecessor, party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, faces charges linked to a huge corruption probe into state oil firm Petrobras.

In the economic capital Sao Paulo, the PT lost control of city hall outright in the first round on October 2.

Rousseff was replaced by Temer after her impeachment.

Temer is deeply unpopular, according to opinion polls. He is pushing a public spending cap through congress.

But voters are apparently even more fed up with recession and corruption scandals.

The PMDB won more city halls than any other party in the first round.

- Scandals -

Crivella is eyeing victory despite suffering some shock revelations during the election campaigns.

He was forced to deny a report in Veja magazine on October 22 that he was arrested in 1990 for making armed threats when evicting a family from land owned by his church.

"He simply represents influence and the introduction of religion into politics," said Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at Rio's Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Crivella has risen thanks to "the evangelists' growing indoctrination of middle and lower-class communities," Hartmann said.

Brazil's evangelical movement was seen as one of the drivers of Rousseff's impeachment.

One of the leaders of the process was prominent evangelist Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of congress.

Cunha has since been arrested for alleged corruption in the Petrobras case.

Authorities have boosted security in Rio and other cities for Sunday's vote.

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