What happened to the left?

Dora Longo Bahia. Revolutions (calendar design), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces) 23 x 30.5 cm each


Considerations on the performance of the left in the 2020 municipal elections

While the results of the November 15 elections were still slowly being released, political commentators were already talking about a “victory for the center” and the tendency of voters towards moderation in the 2020 municipal elections. comparison with 2018 – more than with 2016 – which is the basis for these diagnoses.

Jair Bolsonaro (without a party) showed little or no ability to influence these elections. Of the 12 candidates recommended by him, only two were elected. The PSL, the party for which he was elected and with the second largest party fund, received a small number of votes and did not elect mayors. It's only two games into the second round. Thus, anti-politics lost steam and local problems in times of pandemic weighed on the choices, leading the mayoral reelection rate, which in 2016 had been 46,4%, to 63%.

But the parties that have grown the most in number of city halls are right wing, even if it is a more traditional right in their positions and in their rootedness in party structures and local disputes. It takes some effort to place DEM, PP, PSD and Republicans at the center of the political spectrum. Its own parliamentarians are on the right or centre-right, as shown in the graph below, which shows the position of the different parties in relation to the centre. On the extreme right, the PSL is 8 points away from the center, the DEM is between 8 and 5 points away from the center, depending on the index used. The PSD, which is located 6 points away from the center, is closer to the PSDB and the MDB, which are positioned 4 points to the right, in the first case, and between 2 and 4, in the second. On the left of the political spectrum, the PT's distance from the center is 5 to 6 points.

Note: All measurements were converted to a scale from 1 to 20. Higher values ​​indicate more right positions. Sources: V-Party (V-DEM) 2018; Brazilian Legislative Survey 2017; PREPPS 2019. Edited by André Borges.

What the election data show is that the parties that actually occupy the center of the ideological spectrum, MDB and PSDB, were the ones that lost the largest number of city halls in relation to 2016 – until the 1st round, 269 less and 285 more. less, respectively.

In this picture, what happened to the left?

First, the left remained more stable in number of prefectures than the center. Also when looking at the number of elected councilors, it is significant that the PSDB has shrunk by 18%, while the PT has reduced its share in local legislatures by 5% – even though there are variations in the two ideological spectrums, with a better performance by the MDB, and a worse one by the PCdoB, for example. In some city councils in the capitals, left-wing parties maintained or won the largest number of seats. This is the case of São Paulo, where the PT has, together with the PSDB, the largest number of seats (eight each), while PSOL and DEM are tied for second place, with six seats each. In Porto Alegre, PT, PSOL and PSDB had the highest number of votes, with four seats each. In Rio de Janeiro, PSOL is tied for first place with DEM and Republicans (each with seven seats) and PT in second, along with PSD and Avante (three each).

There were losses, it's true. This, which was not a strongly nationalized election, showed that recent political processes had an impact on the party structure and the capillarity of the parties. Politics is a correlation of forces, as we well know. The opportunities that allowed the DEM to rise from the ashes of a right wing that, until 2014, had been losing its ability to mobilize the electorate, and for the PP and PSD to operate with strengthened party machines, had an impact on the position occupied by the PT in different regions and, to some extent, in the identity of what remains the main party of the Brazilian left.

It would be strange, therefore, if the shock of 2016 had been completely overcome in an election that, more than the previous ones, favored those seeking a second term and confirmed that a process like the one that Brazil has experienced in recent years would have consequences for some time , in favor of the right.

It was in the municipal elections of 2016, and not in those of 2018, that the PT most acutely suffered the effects of the car wash and the anti-PTism orchestrated by the national media, which were decisive for the movements for impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and the arrest of former President Lula. That year, the party, which had won 636 city halls in 2012 and was in the lead in the number of mayors among the largest Brazilian cities, fell to 254 city halls, winning in just one capital (Rio Branco/AC). Even so, in 2018 he would elect the largest group in the Chamber of Deputies and compete in the second round of the presidential elections, winning 44,8% of the valid votes with Fernando Haddad.

In 2020, PT lost in number of governed municipalities, as mentioned, but is the party that contests the largest number of cities in the second round, including a capital, Recife (PE), with Marília Arraes (PT), and medium-sized cities such as Contagem (MG), Juiz de Fora (MG), Mauá (RJ), Guarulhos (SP), Pelotas (RS) , Caxias do Sul (RS), Diadema (SP) and Santarém (PA). It is worth mentioning that in the few cities where the PT ran in the second round in 2016, its candidate was in second place in the polls. In 2020, PT candidates are in first place in seven disputes.

Thus, there were losses on the left in number of municipalities, but some advances in larger cities. The fragmentation of the left, indicated, among other things, by the fact that the PT presented the highest number of isolated candidacies in 2020, 630, still needs to be better analyzed. It may be one of the factors for the shrinking of the entire field.

And, of course, it is necessary to talk about PSOL. Founded in 2004, the Socialism and Freedom Party is an exception to the retreat in the left field in recent years. Less robust than those mentioned above, it demonstrates, however, a capacity to take part in the national debate and position important leaders, in particular leaders of social and feminist movements that seek the party.

In 2016, she drew attention with the election of councilors with significant votes, such as the voting champion Áurea Carolina, in Belo Horizonte (MG), who would be elected federal deputy in 2018 and run for mayor of BH in 2020. young women and feminists, some of them black, gained visibility in local and state legislatures and in the Chamber of Deputies, in a period when feminist and anti-racist movements increased their presence in public debate and resistance to the extreme right. The party's ability to identify with a political language that is constitutive of a renewed social justice agenda, giving priority to it, is one of the factors that explain its growth.

In the second round, PSOL disputes two capitals, Belém (PA), with Edmilson Rodrigues, and São Paulo (SP), with Guilherme Boulos. Rodrigues, who was mayor of Belém for two terms for the PT, joined the PSOL in 2005 and, after that, was elected state deputy and federal deputy with very significant votes. His deputy is Edilson Moura, from the PT, in a coalition that also includes Rede, PCdoB and PDT. Boulos, who is today the most prominent leader of the PSOL, presented his candidacy in a partnership with Luiza Erundina, who participated in the founding of the PT and was, for that party, the first woman to govern the city of São Paulo.

Comparisons have been common in the media between Guilherme Boulos and Lula. In addition to the search for associations that yield notes and comments, Boulos' ability and potential as a national leader in the field of the left justify this association. But the distinction between them is what can help us better understand the current moment.

While Lula asserted himself as one of the greatest leaders of the Brazilian left in a context in which unions had weight in the mobilization and construction of identities, Boulos, with his trajectory in the MTST, easily dialogues with new social movements and with an electorate that has mobilized from other identities. Thus, if Lula was the candidate for an industrial São Paulo in which this sector approached 30% of the national GDP, Boulos is the leader in the country that has deindustrialized most strongly in recent decades and in a city with more than 200 workers per application . Even so, they are close in their capacity to include broad groups, beyond their immediate bases, and to build a discourse capable of mobilizing different sectors of the left.

The challenges for the left are thus on two fronts.

The first has to do with the still-present effects of a political process that has weakened the center and, to a lesser extent, as we argue here, the left. Its impact on the PT is felt, among other reasons, because it is not possible to explain 2020 without 2016, nor the current elections without the strong tendency of the electorate to re-elect.

Bolsonaro's failure occurred, but the more traditional right has made good use of the opportunities that have opened up since 2016. On the other hand, the understanding of the new situation by the PT seems to be limited. The success of the candidacies from the left in Belém and Porto Alegre, as well as the victory of Boulos (who is already victorious in SP, regardless of the result of the 2nd round), should awaken the party to a more realistic analysis, capable of pointing to a new balance on the left.

The second presents itself, of course, in this environment. But it is not dependent on it and goes beyond the Brazilian context. Generational renewal and the challenges of new languages ​​and social justice agendas are unavoidable. PSOL, due to its characteristics and composition, has been more capable of dealing with them than other parties of the Brazilian left. For some, the role of feminisms and anti-racism on the left would boil down to an indigestible “identity politics”.

Maybe it's time to read more carefully the message that comes from candidacies for which the left will be feminist and anti-racist, or not. For many of them, class inequalities, as well as those that appear in the world of work and care relationships, have not lost priority, but are more complex, demanding new languages, especially in political disputes.

* Flavia Biroli is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. She is the author, among other books, of Gender and inequalities: limits of democracy in Brazil (Boitempo).

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil(Brazilian Civilization).


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