People carry the Brazilian flag (Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg)

Brazil's 2018 Presidential Hopefuls Start Their Engines

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s next presidential election is still a year and a half away, but that hasn’t stopped some of the country’s leading potential candidates from mulling a run.

On Tuesday Joao Doria, the newly elected mayor of Sao Paulo, became the latest to hint at a potential bid, telling Bloomberg that he would run if his party chose him. A day earlier his political mentor, Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin, indicated that he could throw his hat in the ring. They follow former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who said last week that he "will want to run for the presidency."

Brazil's 2018 Presidential Hopefuls Start Their Engines

Joao Doria on May 16.

Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

Brazil’s worst recession on record combined with a traumatic impeachment process and a politically devastating corruption scandal has set the stage for what may prove one of the most unpredictable elections since the return to democracy in 1985. Opinion polls for next year’s presidential race show voters rejecting many of the country’s traditional politicians in favor of outsider candidates. Investors are tracking developments closely to gauge whether President Michel Temer’s successor could undo some of his administration’s unpopular austerity measures.

"People are looking for something new," said David Fleischer, professor emeritus at the University of Brasilia. "A non-politician."

‘Why Not?’

Doria, a 59-year-old businessman and former host of Brazil’s version of “The Apprentice,” has fended off questions about his presidential ambitions since his election victory in October in his first foray into politics. But asked during an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York whether he would accept a potential nomination of his Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, Doria answered: "Why not?"

On Monday, Alckmin, also from the center-right PSDB, said that he was "better prepared" to run for the presidency than in 2006, when he lost to Lula. The governor of Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state also downplayed the possibility of a populist winning the vote, due to a nascent economic recovery and the country’s two-round electoral system.

With both men potential rivals for the PSDB’s candidacy, Doria sought to play down his comments to Alckmin after the interview. The mayor of Sao Paulo told Brazilian media on Tuesday evening that he had subsequently sought out the governor to explain that he would only run in the party’s primaries with Alckmin’s blessing.

Brazil's 2018 Presidential Hopefuls Start Their Engines

Geraldo Alckmin

Photographer: Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images

A Datafolha survey carried out at the end of April found Alckmin had significantly lower levels of support than Doria, but both men trailed Lula. The former president has consolidated his lead in the opinion poll despite mounting legal troubles. Charged in five separate criminal cases, Lula would be barred from running if a conviction in any of them is upheld on appeal.

Second-Round Scenario

Only Marina Silva, the third-place presidential candidate in both the 2010 and 2014 elections, and Sergio Moro, the judge currently investigating Lula on corruption charges, currently ties with the leftwing leader in a second-round scenario, according to Datafolha.

Moro has explicitly ruled out running for the presidency. Silva, so far, has proved coy about a candidacy, though in an interview published in local news outlet Broadcast Politico on Monday she said she supported Temer’s pension and labor reforms. The president, whose approval rating hovers around 10 percent, has said he will not run in the 2018 race.

Another candidate currently rising rapidly in the polls is Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman famed as much for his homophobic and sexist outbursts as for his hardline stance on law and order issues.

In a crowded field of potential contenders, Luciano Huck, a well-known TV presenter and businessman is also gaining traction. On Sunday he published an opinion piece in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper in which he denied he was a candidate. Nevertheless, he wrote about how his 20-year media career had given him insight into Brazil and how he was "dedicated to the transformation of the country."