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The governor of Brazil’s richest and most populous state was picked by the Brazilian Social Democracy Party as its candidate for next year’s election challenging President Jair Bolsonaro.

Joao Doria, governor of Sao Paulo, was declared the winner of Saturday’s primaries for the party known as PSDB, according to Bruno Araujo, who heads the group seeking to reemerge as a competitive alternative to the right-left polarization in Brazilian politics.

Technological problems with a voting app delayed the process by a week. Doria defeated Eduardo Leite, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul.

Doria, 63, achieved national prominence by leading efforts to procure vaccines against the coronavirus while Bolsonaro questioned their efficacy and safety. Under Doria’s watch, the state of Sao Paulo closed a deal with China’s Sinovac to bring the first COVID-19 shots into the country.

Doria, elected in 2018 as part of the same anti-left wave that swept Bolsonaro into power, later parted ways with the president to become a strident voice against the federal government’s erratic approach to the pandemic.

“Bolsonaro sold a dream and delivered a nightmare,” Doria said in his victory speech Saturday, citing the nation’s rising unemployment, lower income, as well as increasing conflicts and violence against the press.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a statement on Wednesday in Brasilia. | AFP-JIJI
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a statement on Wednesday in Brasilia. | AFP-JIJI

Yet Doria’s actions during the pandemic, including his government’s restrictions to commerce and social gatherings, didn’t help his approval rating: 53% of the participants of the latest Ipespe poll said they wouldn’t vote for him in any circumstance, a margin just narrower than Bolsonaro.

Winning the PSDB primaries is just the first step of becoming a viable third-party candidate to take on Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former Brazilian president and the front-runner in all opinion polls. Bolsonaro comes in second.

The fight for a spot in the presidential runoff became even more challenging after former judge Sergio Moro joined a political party and informally threw his hat into the ring.

The PSDB, which ruled the country between 1995 and 2002 under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has been losing influence in Brazil’s politics as voters flocked to more polarizing political figures in recent elections.

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