As Rio Carnival ends, Brazil shifts its focus to historic presidential election

iStock/Thinkstock(RIO DE JANEIRO) — Samba drums and hypnotic percussions, nonstop flow of positive lyrics about love and “Saudade” in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Women, men and children wearing sparkly red shirts, fun headpieces dancing tirelessly.

“Blocos de Rua” — or street bands — could be found across the country, mobilizing locals and tourists alike. One of the thousands of organized street festivals is the “Bloco de Carmelitas” — originated in 1990 in the St. Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

As it plays out every year, Rio Carnival 2018, which began earlier this month, gave Brazilians a chance to unwind and party in the streets.

Monica Araujo, 59, a nurse at a public hospital, never misses the “Bloco de Carmelitas.”

“That’s a necessity for Brazilians to celebrate carnival,” Araujo said.

Amid all the fun, though, Brazilians had an anxious eye toward October, when voters will elect another president after years of political turmoil. Araujo, for her part, sent a message by dressing as a doctor — to highlight the lack of funding for her hospital, which suffered major cuts.

“My hospital lost 10 percent of jobs last year. We cannot work,” Araujo told ABC News. “The university of my eldest child has stopped her class because of a lack of money.”

Once elected, the future president will have to deal with the worst economic recession in decades, violent crimes and a recrudescence of gang activity. Above all, he or she will have to reverse a general political mistrust after the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff and the nomination of unpopular Michel Temer as her interim successor.

“I never voted for Michel Temer,” Araujo said.

She added that, because of the political uncertainty, Carnival, which ends Sunday, is that much more important for a healthy distraction and a rejuvenation leading up to October.

“Of course, we need to celebrate even more,” she said.

Not only will Brazilians elect a new president in October, but they will also vote for a new Congress in the wake of a political corruption scandal.

Renato Silva 31, a law student who traveled from Sao Paulo to celebrate Carnival, tried to keep his excitement for the election despite the recent political scandals.

“There was a lot of disappointment in Brazil the past four years,” Silva said.

“If we don’t hope the future will be better, then we die. Carnival is good for both hope and despair,” Renato added.

In some ways, the election mirrors the presidential election in the United States in 2016, with candidates being compared to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) has been compared to Clinton, while Jair Bolsonaro of the far-right Partido Social Cristao (PSC) has been dubbed the “Donald Trump of Brazil.”

Bolsonaro, a former military officer during the dictatorship who wants to combat crime by putting an end to gun control laws, said he is a threat to the establishment.

“I am a threat to oligarchies, I am a threat to the stubbornly corrupt, I’m a threat to those who want to destroy family values,” Bolsonaro told ABC News. “That’s the threat I represent.”

The person to beat, however — if he is allowed to run — is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But the charismatic candidate of Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), who simply goes by Lula, may be in jail by October, following a questionable money laundering trial.

But the left-leaning PT, who compared Lula to the late South African activist and president Nelson Mandela, said it is standing by its candidate.

“We won’t give up in the face of this injustice,” it said.

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