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BRAZIL
Elections bolster new political scenario
José Pedro Martins
10/18/2016
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The high absenteeism rate and null and blank votes were a demonstration of rejection of the electorate towards the current political party system.

It was a catastrophe for the Brazilian left and especially for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT-Worker’s Party). This was the general feeling among analysts and progressive sectors after the municipal elections that took place on Oct. 2; the first elections held after the process that saw President Dilma Rousseff impeached and Michel Temer taking over as president of the country.

The impeachment of Rousseff was confirmed this past Aug. 31 by the Brazilian Senate, 61 votes for and 20 against. In street demonstrations, attended by thousands of people, and by declarations made by the PT leadership and leaders of other leftwing parties, the impeachment was seen as a “coup d’état”.

For Temer´s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), and other parties who supported the impeachment, the process followed the constitutional framework. The opposition and large part of civil society also protested the role that the mainstream media played in this process, as they showed a markedly anti-PT position.

The impeachment process was built in the midst of a series of news reports published by the press regarding the corruption investigation called Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), which is looking into alleged corruption cases committed by official members or linked to the PT party government during the presidential terms of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2002-2010) and Rousseff (2011-2016). The PT and sectors of public opinions complained that Lava Jato was being “selective”, without exercising the same severity with political members of the PMDB, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and other parties allied with Temer, who was Rousseff’s vice-president during her first and second terms. The PMDB, the PSDB and other parties allied to the new president range from the center-right to the far right of the political spectrum.

But the fact is that the avalanche of complaints, which led to the impeachment of Rousseff, also had a significant impact on the municipal elections of Oct. 2; elections that mapped a new political scenario in Brazil. The biggest loser, in fact, was the PT of Lula and Rousseff.

In 2012, the PT won 638 mayoral races, with four state capitals: São Paulo, Rio Branco, Goiânia and João Pessoa. In 2016, the PT only won 256 mayoral races in the first round, which could add to 263 if it wins the runoff in the end of October. This is 60 percent less than the number of mayoral seats obtained in four years.

Temer’s PMDB, which won 1,021 mayoral seats in the first round in 2012 increased to 1,029 in 2016. The PSDB was the party that grew the most, going from 686 mayoral seats in the first round in 2012 to 793 in 2016.

Advance made for women, indigenous people and LGBT
The biggest loss suffered by the PT was without a doubt São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, with over 10 million people and whose political situation has always had a ripple effect in the Brazilian political scenario as a whole. The current Mayor, Fernando Haddad of the PT, who has implemented a lot of changes in the megacity, such as the expansion of bike lanes and improvement in public transit, only received 16.7 percent of the valid votes.

The winner in São Paulo was businessman João Dória Jr., of the PSDB. In his first participation in an election process as a candidate, one of the 26 millionaires to become elected throughout the country, he received more than three million votes. But more votes than Dória is what the null, blank and absentee vote total was:  3’096,304, or close to 40 percent of the 8 million voters in the capital of the richest and most populated state in Brazil.

The elevated index of absenteeism and null and blank votes came as a surprise to many around the country. Some analysts consider that it was more of a demonstration of rejection by the Brazilian electorate to the current political party system, dominated for decades by groups that are closed and in their majority male. “We are living through a serious institutional crisis”, warns to Latinamerica Press philosopher Roberto Romano, an ethics professor at the State University of Campinas. “There is no renewal in the parties, generally dominated by the gerontocracy, in which women and young people do not have a voice.” 

In the 2016 elections, 638 women were elected mayors, versus 664 in 2012, a drop of 4 percent. Brazil has 5,568 municipalities, and nearly 500,000 people ran in the municipal elections for office as mayor and councilmen.

There were small specific advancements made in these elections. For example, one mayor and 11 council members openly LGBT were elected throughout Brazil, according to the Brazilian Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Association (ABGLT). Also, according to the ABGLT, there were only 10 open LGBT candidates in 1996, and in 2016 there were 279 candidates, representing an increase of 2,790 percent in two decades.

The Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) was the party that presented the highest number of LGBT candidates in the last municipal elections. The first openly LGBT mayor in Brazil was elected in the municipality of Itapecerica, in Minas Gerais. He is administrator Wirley Reis, also known as Têko. In total, 377 candidates in all Brazil supported the LGBT cause in their campaigns with 28 of them becoming elected, two mayors and 26 council members. Maria Lucia Marques, elected mayor in Embu-Guaçu, in São Paulo, is considered an ally to the LGBT cause.

Similarly, at least 75 indigenous persons were elected in the municipal elections between mayors and council members. The figure, not yet final, is slightly below the 89 council members elected in 2012. Eleven indigenous council members were elected from the PT, nine from the PSDB, seven from the Green Party and six from the PMDB and the PSOL, among the 20 parties with indigenous leaders elected as council members in their municipalities across Brazil.

Questions about the future
Self-criticism from the left, and especially from the PT, is needed after the elections, many analysts agree. “The PT have to engage in a self-criticism”, acknowledged Edinho Silva, the elected mayor for the PT in the city of Araraquara, in São Paulo, in declarations to the press. Silva was a minister head of the Secretariat of Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic during the government of Rousseff.

“We exchanged a project for Brazil, for a project of power. Winning elections turned into something more important than promoting change through the mobilization of social movements. Fooled, we accepted a bourgeois idea of state, as if the state could not be a tool in the hands of the grass-roots forces and it would always need to be under the protection of the elite”, wrote Frei Betto, a Dominican priest who has historically been identified with the PT and the Liberation Theology. “The time to pay for the mistakes made is here. And the reaction to the coup in the streets of the country was not strong enough to prevent it. But let’s leave pessimism behind. This is the time to be self-critical in practice and organize the hope”.

The expectation, after the elections, falls in line with the way in which the left in general — and the PT in particular — will re-articulate, looking ahead to the presidential elections of 2018, for example. Lula’s name still appears strong in the polls, but the overwhelming defeat of the PT in the last elections puts a question mark on the future of the party and of the former president as well.

Another question has to do with the future of the Brazilian economy and the rights of workers, and with the impact that the recent elections had on the power block that provides support to President Temer, who faced some embarrassing moments at the last United Nations General Assembly in September. Diplomats from Bolivia Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela left the venue when Temer was to give his speech, in clear protest against what they considered the illegitimacy of the President who rose to power after the impeachment of Rousseff. Oct. 2 elections changed the political scenario in Brazil, but have not yet defined the country’s future. —Latinamerica Press.


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For the PT, the resistance taken against the impeachment involves the uncompromising defense of the social rights and achievements that are threatened by the “usurper government of Temer”.
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