the popular right

Image: João Nitsche


Considerations on the 2020 São Paulo elections

The city of São Paulo had mayors elected in the first republic, but only between 1953 and 1965 (and again from 1985 onwards) did they really submit to popular vote. Despite the interruption of the dictatorial period, the party system oriented the electorate and produced some long-lasting traits.

Before 1964, politicians like Ademar de Barros and Janio Quadros, although political enemies, maintained a current that we can call the “popular right”. It contrasted with the traditional, which reproduced middle-class values; and with the left, which sought to organize workers as a class.

Janio managed to go beyond the middle class and compete with the left for representation of workers and marginalized people in the city. His biography written by Vera Chaia shows that he allied the needs of the periphery, such as lighting, public transport and security, with a moralist agenda against pornography and prostitution. His erratic trajectory allowed him to mobilize values ​​of the left and right: he acted against communism and showed solidarity with Elisa Branco, a communist unjustly imprisoned. He defended strikers against police violence and repression against public servants; he took action against sexual harassment and was accused of harassing women; he promised to increase social spending, but fired employees; defended the consumer against counterfeit products and was financed by entrepreneurs; He called himself a liberal and called for a ban on Coca Cola, alcohol on Sundays, cockfights and shorts at Carnival dances.

Unlike Janio, a self made man who propagated honesty and work and had a meteoric rise, Ademar de Barros had been an intervenor appointed by Vargas and projected the image of someone who “steals, but does”. In the 1950s, he displaced the national parties in São Paulo.

New phase

During the dictatorship, São Paulo's short electoral experience was interrupted and mayors were appointed from 1969 onwards. Paulo Maluf was the first "bionic mayor" and, in 1978, indirectly elected governor, positions in which he developed his know-how to implant in the peripheral fringes of the city.

In 1985 the popular right won in Janio's last campaign. He and Maluf recomposed a current of opinion based on exploiting insecurity and promises of road works. Except that Maluf inherited the ademarista brand of the efficient “thief”, while the image of honesty started to be disputed between PT and PSDB.

Malufismo dominated the 1990s and was more effective in winning votes from workers and the middle classes because it did not define itself ideologically and adopted pragmatic forms. He could both wield the argument of managerial competence and the social one. The PSDB, on the other hand, moved from an initial lack of definition to a neoliberal ideological commitment.

Of course there is a common zone of transition between the rights and they are not separated by a sharp border. Janio was elected president of the republic by the UDN with the motto of the broom that would sweep away the corrupt. Maluf presented himself above all as competent, but he went beyond the promises of major road works and the defense of the “route on the street” and incorporated the social agenda: a supposed health plan that every citizen of São Paulo could have for free and Singapore, a project of popular housing that replaced the mutirões of the PT administration, which was accused of creating slums. Both to the favelados and to their middle-class neighbors, Maluf promised to eradicate the shacks. He also supported Celso Pitta, the only elected black mayor in the history of São Paulo.

The turn

In 2000, the Tucano national failure and Pitta's badly evaluated management left Maluf tied with the PSDB. Maluf even split the votes with Romeu Tuma, who stole the banner of police repression from him.

From 2004, the toucan right[I] dominated the anti-PT field. In 2008 Kassab was elected overcoming traditional city forces. As deputy mayor who took office in a toucan administration, he unified conservative voters. But then it disappeared from the electoral scene. In 2012, the popular right was represented by Celso Russomano.

He began his professional life in the Maluf government in 1980; joined the democratic wave and joined the PFL and PSDB, but returned to being a Malufist and served in the PP from 1997 to 2011. voters. Many years before the rise of Bolsonarism, Russomano cultivated military values ​​and took a course for civilians at the Escola Superior de Guerra, but his notoriety came from his television career, the highlight of which was the filming of his wife's death due to lack of medical care. From there, he embraced consumer protection and continued with appealing reports, coverage of carnival balls and gossip columns. The fight against corruption was left aside because over the years he suffered several accusations of illegally practicing law, embezzlement, allocation of public funds to family members and association with bicheiros. Despite the sexual exploitation of his nightly TV shows, he allied himself with the PSC evangelicals in 2016.

From 2012 to 2020, Russomano ran for the Republicans and had candidates for vice-president of the PTB, a kind of sub-legend of power that oscillated between alliance with the right, the promotion of the Campos Machado family (whose origin is Janista) and support for the government On duty. Russomano even topped the polls in 2012 and 2016, fell and finished third. In 2020 he again took the lead in election polls, now defending the Bolsonaro government and the military dictatorship. We don't know if this sectarian preaching is enough for him to have another luck in 2020, because he needs to prevent the left from growing in the periphery.


Bolsonarism had its genesis in Rio de Janeiro, a state that did not generate any national politician during the so-called new republic. Bolsonaro was the first, but in São Paulo no candidate has yet managed to represent him.

Moreover, Russomano's government program is not like his speech, it copies existing practices and cites soccer scouts, partnership with Hollywood and decoration contests; and while he envisions a motivational role for churches, he does not propose a culture war. Covas is more emphatic in combating racial and gender discrimination, although he avoids mentioning the lgbt population.

Bolsonarism has differences with the popular right: it is more “ideological” and mobilizing, while it is essentially pragmatic. The PSDB defended Bolsonarism in 2018, but Mayor Covas advocates “neoliberal democracy”.

The popular right is at a crossroads: will it confirm its decline or will it take the left's place in electoral polarization? Since 1988, the rights have taken turns in the dispute with the PT. The answer depends on whether we are still on the rising tide of anti-PTism.

*Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).



[I]      The PSDB emerged as a dissidence from the Pmdb due to fights over positions and interests. From the mid-1990s, he adhered to neoliberalism and disputed the space of the more or less moderate right.

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