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Brazil's elections seen as giving President more political freedom

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President Jos'e Sarney, who last April became Brazil's first head of state after military rule, has won political breathing space in national mayoral elections, political analysts say. They say the poll last Friday strengthened Mr. Sar-ney's hand in dealing with the center-left Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, which viewed him only as a stop-gap president. The election, the first real test of public opinion since the military relinquished power after 21 years, brought a surprise reverse for the PMDB.

Despite victories in 19 of Brazil's 23 states and in two territorial capitals, the party lost to a right-wing candidate in Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, and forfeited its monopoly of power in the industrialized south.

Sarney, head of the military-backed Social Democratic Party until last year, may use his new leeway to seek more support from his old party, as well as from the Liberal Front, the junior coalition partner, says political scientist David Fleischer of the University of Bras'ilia.

``The reduction of the personal power of [PMDB president] Ulysses Guimaraes has opened a new political breathing space for Sarney, until now a prisoner of the PMDB with a crisis of identity,'' Brazil's leading financial daily Gazeta Mercantil said.

Chosen for the vice-presidential slot in a pact with government defectors to push through an end to military rule, Sarney is closely linked to the military.

He found himself at the helm of Latin America's most populous nation when President-elect Tancredo Neves died before he could take office.

Under the ever-watchful eye of Neves's PMDB, he has stuck to the commitments of the party, taking a tough line on the payment of the $103 billion foreign debt, the largest in the developing world.

But he is unpopular with PMDB politicians who would prefer to see their own man in the job. There is some pressure for him to step down next year rather than continuing until presidential elections in 1988.

The election campaign split the ruling coalition, with two cabinet members of the center-right Liberal Front campaigning actively for former Brazilian President Janio Quadros, the victor in Sao Paulo.

Mr. Guimaraes played down the rivalry within the government, though he said his party would have to forge new political alliances, especially in Sao Paulo. Mr. Quadros will wield much influence in a state that is home to a quarter of the Brazilian electorate.

The threat to the PMDB from the center-right is matched by a growth in voters' support for parties of the left, especially the Workers Party, which won the Ceara State capital of Fortaleza and took 20 percent of the vote in the largest constituency, Sao Paulo.

The election result could lead to a new party being built around Sarney, which would mean a government shift toward the center, says Mr. Fleischer of the University of Bras'ilia.


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