The Senate election race

Image: Murillo Molisani


The growth of the right can make, for the first time since 1986, the largest bench in the Senate

The 2018 election renewed more than 80% of the 54 disputed seats in the Senate, changing the profile of the house by exchanging experienced politicians for a wave of new representatives. In 2022, the renewal, although it should be significant, will have less impact due to the smaller number of vacancies in dispute. The novelty for 2023 will be the correlation of forces between the parties.

Table 1 shows how the Senate's party composition was strongly modified during the current legislature. While the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) maintained its bench, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and, in particular, the Liberal Party (PL) grew significantly. As happened in the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro’s option for the party of Valdemar da Costa Neto – one of the demons who, according to a recent statement by the First Lady, roamed around the Planalto, bore fruit.

Tabela 1
Senate benches - 2019 and 2022

Network and Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) had significant reductions in their benches. União Brasil did not materialize as the sum of the benches of the Democrats and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) thanks, again, to the weight of the current president of the Republic. Solidarity, Christian Labor Party (PTC), Progressive Republican Party (PRP) and Solidarity Humanist Party (PHS) lost representation.

The change of subtitles between senators favored parties aligned to the right, which now control 60,5% of the mandates instead of 48,1% in 2019. The strong growth of the PL meant that the Centrão – also including the Progressista (PP), Republicans, Christian Social Party (PSC) and Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) – would now account for 40,8% of this total (20 senators out of 49). The parties on the left – the Workers' Party (PT), the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and Rede – fell from 21% to 16%. At the center – MDB, PSDB, Citizenship and SD – there was a similar decrease, from 29,6% to 23,5%.

At this point in the championship, the electoral scenario for the Senate still brings many uncertainties. The research available is scarce and in several states the list of candidacies underwent last-minute changes, with big names entering or leaving the dispute. Nevertheless, it is possible to speak of general trends based on what is known so far.

The MDB has four seats up for grabs – in the states of Paraíba, Pernambuco, Mato Grosso do Sul and Espírito Santo. In the first two, he did not launch a candidate and in the third, the name presented has no chance against former minister Teresa Cristina (PP). In the latter, Senator Rose de Freitas will face a fierce dispute with candidates from the PL and Republicans. Only in Alagoas is the party the favorite. Unless some dark horse emerges out there, the tendency is for the bench to shrink.

Still at the center of the party spectrum, the picture is not encouraging for the PSDB/Cidadania federation either. The toucans will lose José Serra and Tasso Jereissati. Its candidate is uncompetitive in São Paulo and in Ceará the party has not launched anyone. The losses could be partially offset in Goiás, where Marconi Perillo is a strong competitor, and in Amazonas, a state where the dispute with the PSD, of Senator Omar Aziz will be tough. Citizenship should only keep Senator Eliziane Gama, whose mandate runs until 2027.

The left has chances to grow, but there won't be a big leap. PSB must lose the chair in Santa Catarina, where the right dominates the game. The loss tends to be compensated by Flávio Dino, favorite in Maranhão. Victory is also possible with Márcio França, who can benefit from the division of the São Paulo right, between Janaína Pascoal (PRTB) and Marcos Pontes (PL). But in Rio de Janeiro, the candidacy of Alessandro Molon (PSB) will be hampered by the division on the left. The party still has good chances in Sergipe and Paraíba.

For the PDT, senator Acir Gurgacz will run for re-election in Rondônia, in an open dispute against candidates from the PP and the Republicans. The party has a good chance in Rio Grande do Norte, where it is running for the seat on the ticket for the PT governor – which, in turn, led the PT to give up trying to re-election Senator Jean Paul Prates.

The petistas are favorites in Piauí and Ceará, with Wellington Dias and Camilo Santana. In Pernambuco, Tereza Leitão leads in a technical tie with names from the PL and PSD. In Pará, with the resignation of Senator Paulo Rocha, the party's candidate competes at a disadvantage with more prominent names from the PL and PP. In Acre, the replacement of Jorge Viana, launched as governor, by Nazareth Araújo diminished the party's chances. In Rio Grande do Sul, Olívio Dutra will have the difficult task of overcoming the favorites Ana Amélia (PSD) and Hamilton Mourão (Republicans).

The right must grow. Starting with Centrão, the PL is ahead in Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro, states where there are vacancies in dispute. Its bench may increase due to the strong investment made by Bolsonarism. In the Federal District, Flávia Arruda leads. In Rio Grande do Norte, Rogério Marinho pursues the PDT candidate. The party also has competitive candidates in Acre, Pernambuco, Pará, Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Santa Catarina.

In the four states where its vacancies are up for grabs, the PP does not compete in Acre, has an uncompetitive name in Sergipe and faces a very difficult situation in Piauí. It has good chances only in Tocantins, with Senator Katia Abreu. It is a favorite in Mato Grosso do Sul. There are still competitive candidates in Pará, Rondônia and Roraima, states where the picture is undefined.

In the Republicans, Hamilton Mourão is the one with the most chances. Damares Alves can grow in the Federal District. In Espírito Santo the candidate is competitive and in Rondônia he is on the cake. Still in Centrão, the PTB must lose its bench and the PSC has a chance in Minas.

On the right, not necessarily linked to Bolsonarism, the PSD can keep the three states in which its mandates are in dispute, with emphasis on Otto Alencar in Bahia. In Amazonas and Minas Gerais, its candidates share the top spot with PSDB and PSC names. In Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina the party is ahead, isolated or in a technical tie.

União Brasil will lose its chair in the DF, but should keep it in Amapá. It competes for first place in Tocantins and Paraná. It has competitive names in Paraíba and Acre. Podemos will lose the vacancy in Rio Grande do Sul and in Paraná Álvaro Dias faces Sergio Moro. The PRTB only has a chance in São Paulo.

Having made this balance, it should be noted that the growth of the right should mean that, for the first time since 1986, a party located on this side of the ideological spectrum will conquer the largest bench in the Senate, displacing the MDB. PL and PSD are the candidates for the post. Finally, Centrão is unlikely to grow much beyond what it already has due to the party changes that occurred throughout the legislature. And that's because the bloc's parties failed to coordinate their electoral strategies. Thus, in at least six states – DF, SP, ES, PA, RO and MT – their candidates are in direct dispute for the vacancy, which, of course, opens up space for other parties.

*Carlos Ranulfo Melo he is a retired professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG Author, among other books, of Removing chairs from their place: partisan migration in the Chamber of Deputies (ed. UFMG).

Originally published on the website Election Observatory.


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