Elections and Democracy in Brazil


Brazil’s first round of municipal elections was completed on Sunday, October 2nd and there were no major surprises.  Lula’s PT party took a drubbing and the results were somewhat favorable to President Michel Temer’s government although the PMDB did not win, show or place in any of Brazil’s top 3 electoral zones (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte).

Brazil’s mix of the advanced and the archaic certainly comes out in voting.  The vote count was done by computers minutes after the polls closed but those elected succeeded not so much because of their brilliance, competence or party affiliation but instead because of their personal appeal. Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical songster placed first for the run off in Rio. The well-known soccer player Joao Leite came in first in Belo Horizonte and faces the second around against the former president the favorite home futbol team.   Joao Doria, elected outright in Sao Paulo, aside from being a millionaire publicist is also an ex-TV personality who used to host a program analogous to Trump’s Apprentice.  Examples of entertainment and popular culture mixed with politics much like in the USA.  Globalization of politics is all around.

As in North America, wealth, name recognition and being able to convincingly pitch what the people want to hear are important to winning elections.  Still Brazil is different.  In the US there are only two major parties and two “want to be’s” (Libertarian and Green) while in Brazil there are over 35 parties with a complex system of summing party votes to favor a slate and to gain resources.  Republicans and Democrats diverge on social causes, sexual equality, women rights and climate change but in Brazil party separation at the municipal level is not based on programs but on the person.  In Sao Paulo, Lula’s favorite Fernando Haddad tried to walk a thin line between leftist PT politics and efficient spending and use of resources.  In doing so he lost the vote of the poor, which wound up diluted.  Doria was elected in the first round with over 50% of the vote compared to some only some 17% for the PT incumbent.

In Brazil, voting is required by law.  Suffrage has now been extended to 16 year olds as compared to the existence in the 20th century of literacy, age and gender requirements which helped preserve the primacy of the white patriarchy.  Today, Brazilians recognize themselves as a mixed race society and only 48% of the population self describes itself as white, yet over 70% of the elected mayors and council members are Caucasian men.  Traditions are strong and difficult to break.   In the run up to the first round, there were over 20 political assassinations.  Some of these were vindictive small town type feuds but many were related to the drug trade and the preservation of gang influence and territory.  This is a major area of concern in Rio and other big cities.  The situation is not yet like Mexico where the narco-cartels control whole towns and outlying areas but it is something that could occur with the weakening reach of the state.

Elections are important in Brazil and the process and campaigns in the election cycle are important civic activities.  Voting contributes to building civic society and institutions.  These municipal elections were the first where corporate contributions to campaign financing have been prohibited.  In theory, the process is becoming more “democratic” but the prevailing levels of education and the influence of the broadcast media still strongly impact the public perception of the candidates.  Moreover, Brazilian politics reflects the overall level of critical thinking and debate in society.  Certainly, important information on the candidates, their backgrounds and their programs are available and debate is intense and widespread.  People vote their interests based on information and perception.  The effort to be informed and to think is undoubtedly cumbersome and time consuming.   In a situation where people are working long hours to meet ends meet and have little time and cynical view of politicians, the challenges of building institutions and civil society are immense.  But, in the end, it is better to have elections, have voters and the whole process, but at the same time patience with the results.

The short term impact is pretty much business as usual in Brazil.  Populism, personalities and personal contacts and special relationships permeate the system. There are no new or exciting faces readily apparent for the future.   Politics as the means for ordering power still has its draw.  Individuals and organizations strive to promote ideas and interests through the political process and this is particularly important at the local level where streets need to be fixed, sanitation services need to be installed, schools need to function, streets need to be policed and growth needs to be guided.  In the long run, electoral participation should build political institutions.  Former President Dilma Rousseff’s successor, President Temer’s party had the largest number of candidates but the PSDB was more successful in getting people elected. And while the PSDB came out as winners overall, the party is seriously divided between its more social democratic branch and the more conservative elements elected in the city of Sao Paulo.

Brazil needs a political reform to reduce the number of parties and to make them more representative.  Whether Congress can come to this same conclusion remains to be seen and the next big political test will be the general election in 2018.  Given the current situation with a President of questionable legitimacy, it is unlikely thatany major political reforms will take place until after 2018 vote.  At this point, the jockeying is on to see who can emerge as a viable candidate.  President Temer should be ineligible in two years, but if he achieves legitimacy through economic success, the Brazilian politicians can likely find a way to qualify him.  Lula, while under indictment on various corruption charges still is the most charismatic and electorally popular figure.  The PSDB will have the nearly impossible task of finding a unity candidate with the ongoing competition involving Aecio Neves, Jose Serra, and Geraldo Alckmin.  Marina Silva, who came in third with a surprisingly strong showing in 2014 is currently floundering.  Personalities prevail over programs as the Brazilian system gradually evolves with each cycle.

Forbes Article (Oct. 5, 2014) by Kenneth Rapoza with some electoral counts

Social Democrats Face Archrival Workers’ Party In Brazil Election Run-Off

Brazil’s most powerful political parties will go head to head on Oct. 26 in a run-off election between incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and Social Democrat Aecio Neves, who came from a third place position to beat socialist party pick Marina Silva.

Marina’s crash and burn was in part due to recent comments that she was happy keeping the currency even weaker than it already is, and voters in the highly populated south thinking the only party that can really wrestle power from the Workers’ Party is the Social Democrats.

With over 95% of the votes counted by 21:00 local time, Dilma had 41% of the votes while Neves had 34%.

Analysts will now focus on deciphering the next round. Both Dilma and Neves have been rising in the polls. It is unclear whether Marina’s voters will choose Dilma or Neves in the days ahead. New polls will likely come out later this week. The good news for the incumbent is that she was gathering momentum right along with Neves. This indicates that either the undecided voters had made their decisions and/or the Marina voters had migrated to the challenger. Either way, the fact that both Dilma and Neves rose in the polls suggests voters are — in the worst case — evenly split.

Brazilian senator Aécio Neves to take on Dilma Rousseff in an election run off on Oct. 26. To win, he will have to convince more than 65% of Marina Silva’s voters to choose him over Dilma. It will not be easy.

Some 142 million people will vote again on Oct. 26. The largest constituencies are in the wealthy South/Southeast with roughly 77.7 million voters combined.

São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, has 31.9 million voters accounting for 22.4% of the vote. This is generally a Social Democrat stronghold. Assuming Neves wins 65% of São Paulo, it would give him 20.7 million votes.

Minas Gerais is the second biggest market for Neves, which he represents as a senator in Brasilia. His home state has 15.2 million voters. Assuming another 65% for Neves would give him 9.8 million, though that might be asking too much. Dilma beat him with 43% of the vote in the first round as it is. He would need every single Marina Silva vote to keep Dilma’s numbers stable in that farming and mining state.

No. 3 Rio de Janeiro could be a toss up. If Rio is split in half, that’s six million for each. Assuming Dilma gets 60% of Bahia, that would give her 6.1 million and Neves four million.

Then there is the fifth largest constituency, located in the deep south. This is Rio Grande do Sul. They have 8.3 million voters. This is also a toss up. While Dilma beat Neves with 43%, Neves wasn’t far behind. Assuming a draw, that’s 4.1 million each.

Combined, the best case scenario for Neves in the top five constituencies gives him 44.6 million and Dilma 33.1 million. Unfortunately for the Social Democrats, there is more to Brazil than the top five.

The biggest differential will be in the North/Northeast states. Dilma runs away with it here. In the rich south, the differential in favor of Neves is smaller. In other words, she has more support from her traditional supporters than Neves has from his in terms of body count.

Sergipe: 54% Dilma, 23% Neves
Alagoas: 52% Dilma, 21% Neves
Pernambuco: 44% Dilma, 5% Neves
Paraiba: 55.6% Dilma, 23% Neves
Rio Grande do Norte: 60% Dilma, 19% Neves
Ceara: 68% Dilma, 15% Neves
Piaui: 70.5% Dilma, 14% Neves
Maranhao: 69.5% Dilma, 11.6% Neves
Tocantins: 50.2% Dilma, 27.6% Neves
Para: 53% Dilma, 27% Neves
Amapa: 51% Dilma, 25% Neves
Roraima: 33% Dilma, 43.6% Neves
Amazonas: 54.4% Dilma, 19.4% Neves
Acre: 29.7% Dilma, 29.8% Neves

In those states, Dilma received 15.6 million votes to Neves’ 4.72 million for a 10.88 differential in favor of the incumbent. Neves needs to receive every vote from Marina in those states, otherwise Dilma takes the North/Northeast popular vote without a fight.

In the wealthier states that went to Neves, the Minas Gerais senator garnered 19.73 million votes to Dilma’s 12.58 million, or a differential of just 7.15 million.

The easiest way to look at it is by taking the total vote count thus far. For Dilma, it’s been 43.26 million voters in her favor versus Neves’ 34.89 million. Marina received 22 million. In order for Neves to win, he needs to get over 65% of the Marina vote. Even at 65% of the Marina vote, Neves adds around 14.3 million to his tally, or 49.1% of the popular vote…not enough to take the presidency in January.

No one is expecting Dilma to walk away with the election at this point. It will be a nail biter.

However, for Neves to skew the elections in his favor he will need a popular figure, most likely from the market, to come out in support of him. Investors will look for hints as to who might be in charge of a Neves Finance Ministry, or what his take is on the foreign exchange rate and inflation. Brazil’s real is currently trading at its lowest level since the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Dilma, meanwhile, has some stats on her side. The poor are getting richer. And so are the middle class. Educational attainment is improving, and the unemployment levels — while not entirely accurate — remain low. She will have to regain trust in constituents tired of political corruption and a general laziness about public service and fair play. She will also continue to make overtures to the market about her plans to change course on economic policy, something investors are looking forward to next year.
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