the deep Brazil

Image: Action Group


Notes on the 2020 municipal elections

Bolsonaro was unable to raise the Alliance for Brazil, his supporters used several subtitles for rent, he only manifested himself in the final stretch, but he left the municipal elections weakened. He was not ground, crushed, but wounded. Even with the strengthening of the government Centrão, which grew by an average of 30%, however, it did not conquer any important city. The elections confirmed that, throughout this year, despite oscillations, in the context of the pandemic, a slow but uninterrupted erosion of the Bolsonaro government prevails.

The liberal right Bloc PSDB/MDB/DEM lost a third of the votes compared to 2016 – the MDB lost 4 million votes, the PSDB lost seven million, and the DEM gained three million – but this defeat is compensated for because it won in Salvador , Curitiba and Florianópolis, and dispute the second round in São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. In addition to dragging to his articulation of the 2022 presidential elections with Doria, Moro and Huck, probably Belo Horizonte, although Kalil is from Kassab's PSD. The PDT/PSB/Cidadania block, led by Ciro Gomes with a national developmentalist project, managed to take its candidates to the second round in Recife and Fortaleza, but did not gain positions in the southeast with the elimination of Márcio França in São Paulo and Marta Rocha in River. Therefore, it did not leave the relatively secondary position it occupies as a center-left.

The crucial fact for the PT was not having gone to the second round in São Paulo for the first time since 1992. But, if we consider that 2016 was the terrible year of the impeachment, and that afterwards the PT took Haddad to the second round in 2018, and calibrating that, on a national scale, Recife and Vitória, in addition to two dozen important cities, maintained positions, with a recovery bias. PC do B lost 40% of its votes, did not elect councilors in São Paulo, Rio and Belo Horizonte, but took Manuela D'Ávila to the second round in Porto Alegre, an electoral feat. The PSol achieved the greatest political and electoral victory in its history, with a spectacular result with Boulos in the key city of the strategic triangle of the Southeast, and once again guaranteeing Edmilson Rodrigues in Belém do Pará. It increased from 53 to 75 councillors, especially in large capitals, becoming the most dynamic force on the left in the country.

The 2020 elections were only local elections and this could lead to a perspective error. National maps are interesting for comparing evolutionary dynamics over the years. But they always introduce an optical illusion. For example, compare the total number of mayors of each party that were elected, or councilors this year with 2016. This analysis key does not consider that the extreme right devoured the PSDB/MDB/DEM with Bolsonaro. The most productive exercise is to compare these elections, too, with 2018. It turns out that they are different elections, therefore, many mediations are necessary. Boulos in the second round alone is worth how many mayors of a village that is a place in the continental vastness of the country? Or is a councilor in Rio or São Paulo worth how many councilors are lost in this immensity of Brazil?

Brazil is a gigantic country. We cannot fail to consider that the country has twenty cities with a million or more inhabitants, or almost one hundred cities with more than two hundred thousand inhabitants. There are two hundred cities with more than fifty thousand inhabitants. The capillarity of political representation of ruling class parties is incomparably greater than that of the left. Civil organizations that defend the interests of capitalism are present on a national scale. The left has no presence on commercial radio and TV networks. There is a deep Brazil. In this profound Brazil, democratic freedoms are very limited. Being left-wing and politically active in the vast majority of rural Brazil is very dangerous.

If we compare 2016 with 2020, and consider Bolsonarism as the hard core of the far-right coalition that supports the Bolsonaro government (Republicans, PSL, Patriots, PRTB, PSC), the number of city halls has doubled, but still very small, from 244 to 467. But if we incorporate the government centrão into Bolsonarism (PSD/Kassab, PP/Ricardo Barros, PL/Artur Lira, PTB/Jefferson, Avante, Solidariedade/Paulinho da Força and PROS) they strengthened: they evolved from 1710 to 2095. Overestimating this comparison would, however, be a mistake. Because the root Bolsonarism was a phenomenon that exploded in 2018, and the displacement of the centrão is always uncertain. More importantly, Russomano's defeat is qualitative, and Bolsonarism disputes the second round, but without being favorites in Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, Belém, and Vitória.

The big surprise of the elections was the spectacular passage of Boulos/Erundina to the second round in São Paulo, and the consolidation of the PSol as a party that disputes the leadership of the Brazilian left with the PT. But this legitimate conclusion can feed dangerous illusions. Voting for PSol no longer has the same radical meaning as it did when the PT was in government. In other words, it does not allow us to conclude that there was an experience of rupture or even irreversible disillusionment with the PT. Even in São Paulo, the Boulos/Erundina vote is more than double the vote, which is already spectacular for PSol for city council members. Therefore, a mediation in the analysis is that whoever voted PSol for mayor could have voted PT, if there had been other candidates. It was not a vote against the PT. It was a vote in favor of the best candidacy in the resistance against Bolsonaro. Voters choose who are the candidates who can fulfill this role. It really depends, therefore, on who the candidate is. But having this reference as a mediation in the analysis, the PSol was greatly strengthened. Although smaller than the PT, the PSol, the party of Marielle Franco and Fora Bolsonaro, it is in a much stronger position. Because the expression of feminist, black, LGBTI, environmentalist and youth leaders also converged in the PSol, as well as proletarian candidacies, uniting the fight against oppression with the fight against exploitation, which represent a powerful dynamic of renewal of cadres.

The pandemic conditions had a smaller impact on abstention than expected, although it was not irrelevant. The abstention rate in the first round of municipal elections this year was 23,14%. That is, an attendance above 76%. This is a very high rate when compared to other countries. In the two previous municipal elections, abstention in the first round was 17,58% in 2016 and 16,41% in 2012. In the most recent election, the 2018 presidential election, abstention in the first round was 20,33%. A low quantitative variation, therefore, less than 5%. People went to vote. Only 9,66% voided or voted blank. But in some cities, abstention was higher, as in Rio de Janeiro, 32,79%, and blank and null votes totaled 19,23%, exceeding 50%. This phenomenon occurred in other cities as well, such as São Paulo, depending on the severity of the pandemic.

Bolsonaro suffered an electoral defeat. The far right did not go beyond 10% on average in large cities with few exceptions. But it is symbolic that in São Paulo Russomano has collapsed and in Rio de Janeiro his son has lost a third of the votes in 2016, in addition to the position of highest voted councilor for Tarcísio Freitas of PSol. In the big cities, when compared to 2018, there was a shift of votes from the extreme right to the three traditional parties representing the ruling class, DEM, PSDB and MDB. But Bolsonaro was a caudillo without a party and, although he did not have the capacity to build an organization, or even conquer hegemony in the party he was elected for, he still maintains a mass influence that is no less, on a national scale, considering the interiors, than something around 30%.

The cyber attack on the TSE system is a worrying surprise, still hidden in obscure explanations. Who was interested in igniting mistrust in electronic voting machines? Only to sectors of the extreme right who are fixated on the conspiratorial accusation that there are frauds. More important, however, is that Bolsonaro has joined in questioning the fairness of the elections, echoing Trump, and signaling what he plans to do in 2022.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).

See this link for all articles