Brazil's Local Elections Are Over. What Happens Now? - plus55


The municipal elections are dress rehearsals for the national race. What can we expect in the near future?
Brazil Opinion

The 2016 municipal elections marked the end of the Workers’ Party era as a reigning party in the Brazilian political landscape. That cycle of power started in 1988 when the party elected the mayor of São Paulo. One year later, the party was in the second-round of the presidential race – the first of five times Lula da Silva would be a candidate. From that point until last Sunday, the Workers’ Party has been the center of Brazilian politics, being the subject of equally intense support and opposition. This leading role is now over.

The party has been blamed – and rightfully so – for Brazil’s brutal economic crisis. Responsible for numerous errors in how economic policy was conducted in the past years, the party is also buried to the neck, among other political groups, in corruption scandals emerging from the Petrobras probe. The Workers’ Party leaves the election shattered and suffering the loss of its political patrimony. The party’s crisis is even worse when we consider that they have no alternative to Lula for the 2018 presidential race. The incumbent Mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, could have been the man, but he didn’t even make it to the second round of elections while fighting for reelection.

At this point, nobody can predict what will become of the Workers’ Party – not even its leaders, still coping with the devastating results of the elections. The losses were not only electoral, as the party’s militancy is smaller than what it used to be. Lula’s political group is unable to return to its origins: the ethical discourse cannot come from them, and the social movements that made them strong are not the same. On the left, the party Socialism and Liberty menaces their hegemony, and the center doesn’t seem much of an alternative. What can the Workers’ Party do, aside from hoping for economic chaos during Michel Temer’s government?

The President’s party received mixed results from the polls. While it snatched control of more than one-fifth of Brazilian cities, it lost the crown jewels – Rio and São Paulo. Its electoral machines will be capable in 2018 of electing many congressmen, but no leader seems capable of winning the presidential race. Michel Temer remains a question mark, and Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor, is one of the losers from the 2016 elections. New names are still unknown.

While the government’s coalition was victorious, the government itself is not stronger. Good performances by the parties only foment internal disputes and make it increasingly difficult for different parties to march in a unified direction. Fragmentation is evident, as the ballots failed to create a hegemonic force. For the government, it means more people to deal with, more caving, and more problems.

The Elections In São Paulo

The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) has generated a lot of buzz. The electors of João Doria and the Mayor-elect are thrilled after an unprecedented first-round win. São Paulo’s Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who backed Doria and groomed him as a candidate, received a push for his presidential bid in two years. Euphoria aside, we must comment on the problems and challenges ahead.

João Doria received 53 percent of valid votes. But as it happened across Brazil, 22 percent of voters in São Paulo didn’t even show up to cast their ballots. Another 13 percent nullified their votes. This means that over 1 out of every 3 people in São Paulo didn’t vote for a single candidate – which is more than the total votes for the mayor-elect.

By all means, his victory is legitimate, but his representativeness is limited. And in the context of the representation crisis currently experienced in Brazil, it is harder for elected officials to garner support. After his first unpopular measure, his approval ratings are likely to nosedive, and lower approval ratings would mean less support from city councils. The PSDB wanted to defeat the Workers’ Party, but forgot that they must now govern a huge metropolis for four years.

And then there is the fiscal crisis, a lack of money, and the need to reform public institutions and face interest groups. In the bat of an eye, Doria’s support could evaporate. There’s also a catch: Doria’s image is based on his “anti-candidate” speech. When things sour, will the businessman be able to blame political problems for his shortcomings? For Governor Geraldo Alckmin, Doria must succeed. His presidential project depends on it.

But the Governor has other challenges even within his party. There are two other candidates: José Serra, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Senator Aécio Neves, the party’s nominee from 2014. It is hard to imagine that either would back down for Alckmin. José Serra is ready to jump ship and run for another party. Neves is also adamant in his political plans.

In two years, much can happen – and in Brazil “even the past is unpredictable,” as a traditional politician once said. One thing is certain: when you have three presidential candidates unwilling to compromise, conflict is inevitable.