Rio de Janeiro — Brazil's thrust toward democracy with the first free nationwide elections in 20 years has resulted in a victory for moderation.
Although opposition candidates won strongly in many of the populous industrialized states in southern Brazil, their victories cannot be seen as signaling major confrontations ahead with the military-dominated government in Brasilia.
The opposition wins were expected. Only in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost industrial state, did the government-backed candidate stage a surprise win. The only other surprise was the narrowness of some of the opposition candidates' victories - in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, for example.
However, the slim margins of victory add to the sense of moderation.
This absence of election surprises appears to signal that Brazil has passed the test of democracy after 18 years of military rule. The Nov. 15 voting went smoothly despite plenty of doubt beforehand about the wisdom of holding elections at this time.
Some Brazilians and Brazil-watchers had gloomily predicted that the election would show democracy simply cannot work in Latin America's largest nation.
Many say the credit for the election success must go to President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, who has been nudging the country along the road to democracy since he came to office three years ago. He wants his military to pull out of government completely by 1985.
''I am pleased,'' was his simple statement from Brasilia at midweek.
And so were most Brazilians. The vote trend suggests that Brazilians are naturally conservative. They approached the election campaigns enthusiastically and with a seriousness that surprised many observers. But when they voted, they showed that they simply did not want to rock the boat. Across the country they chose generally moderate candidates - although there were far left and far right candidates, too.
Even Leonel Brizola's apparent victory in the Rio de Janeiro State gubernatorial race is viewed this way. Brizola is hardly the firebrand he was 20 years ago when he was the young governor of Rio Grande do Sul State. For much of the week-long vote tabulation Brizola trailed slightly - and he charged Nov. 18 that some individuals were attempting to rig the results.
The military is taking Brizola's victory calmly. It would have liked a victory for its candidate, Wellington Moreira Franco but realized weeks before the balloting that he was unlikely to win.
What surprised many here was Moreira Franco's strong showing as the vote count progressed. At week's end, with 82 percent of the vote tabulated, Mr. Brizola led by a scant 72,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast. Even Brizola's camp was surprised.
The voting was quite close in many other gubernatorial and senatorial races.
In Sao Paulo State, the victory of Franco Montero was not the landslide expected. He has promised that he will work closely with Brasilia and with the military to assure continued flowering of the movement toward democracy. That is important in a state whose budget is larger than that of any country in Latin America.