Traditional right advances, left practices unity: an overview of the 2020 Brazilian elections

Non-Bolsonaro aligned right elected most mayors in country’s capitals; 11 of 13 tickets supported by him failed

December 01, 2020 by Brasil de Fato
"The left hasn't been able to address the population's essential problems, hunger and unemployment", says the MST's national director. Photo: Fernando Frazão / Agência Brasil

The 2020 municipal elections were marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the process since the pre-campaign period. In addition to the virus, the election will be remembered for the failure of candidates supported by President Jair Bolsonaro, for a rehearsal of left-wing unity in various capitals during the 2nd round run off, and for the massive victories of candidates from the traditional right in the country’s main cities.

Last Sunday November 29, run off elections for city hall were held in 57 cities, and were dominated by the traditional right.

As for state capitals, seven had their elections decided in the 1st round, with victories from the right and center-right in: Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Curitiba (Paraná), Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), Palmas (Tocantins), Florianópolis (Santa Catarina), Salvador (Bahia) and Campo Grande (Mato Grosso). In the 2nd round, the progressive forces only won in Belém (Pará), with Edmilson Rodrigues, in Aracaju (Sergipe), with Edvaldo Nogueira; in Recife (Pernambuco), with João Campos; and in Maceió (Alagoas), with João Henrique Caldas.

Progressive forces

For the first time, the Workers’ Party (PT) did not elect any mayors in state capitals. The drop compared to 2016 was not significant. On that occasion, PT competed in the run off of seven of the largest cities in the country, only winning in Rio Branco (Acre), with Marcus Alexandre, who resigned in 2018.

On the other hand, the party will jump from zero to four city halls among the 100 largest cities in the country. Last Sunday, José de Filippi Jr., in Diadema (São Paulo); Marília Campos, in Contagem (Minas Gerais); Margarida Salomão, in Juiz de Fora (Mins Gerais); and Marcelo Oliveira, in Mauá (São Paulo).

PT’s national president, federal congresswoman Gleisi Hoffmann, points out that the party “obtained 40% of the votes or more in most of the cities in which we ran for mayor, which shows that the left remains competitive.”

In her view, the next challenge is to build a path of unity and dialogue, which “proved to be viable in the municipal elections.”

Edilson Moura (PT), for example, will be deputy mayor to Edmilson Rodrigues from the progressive PSOL party, in the municipality of Belém (Pará). Although this was the only capital where PSOL was victorious, the evaluation of political scientists heard by Brasil de Fato, TVT and Rede Brasil Atual throughout Sunday, is that the party is coming out stronger.

Unity

Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) political scientist, Maria do Socorro Sousa Braga, praises the fact that Guilherme Boulos (PSOL) contended a fierce 2nd round election run off in São Paulo, the capital city of a state with the same name, against the current mayor Bruno Covas.

“The trend is one of fresh air being pumped into the leftist field. PT will remain as the most important party in the left-wing camp, but without the same hegemony as before. PSOL emerges with important leaders, such as Boulos, while PT still has much greater capillarity,” she analyzed.

Braga adds that a victory for the center is not necessarily a defeat for Bolsonaro, since today they are on the same side of national politics. According to the expert, this element only reinforces the need to build a broad coalition against the advancement of the right.

Despite being defeated, Boulos’ candidacy represented a significant step towards unity among the left on the national scene. Prominent figures who were on opposite sides in the last presidential elections, such as Ciro Gomes, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) and Marina Silva, lent support to the leader of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) in last Sunday’s run off.

A similar phenomenon occurred in Porto Alegre (RS), with the candidacy of Manuela D’Ávila from the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), who came in second, and in Fortaleza (Ceará): where the election of José Sarto, was a victory for the anti-Bolsonaro front.

In cities where unity was not possible, such as Rio de Janeiro, left-wing parties launched “separate” candidacies and were left out of the 2nd round.

In all, left and center-left parties elected 12 mayors on November.

Traditional right on the rise

In Brazilian state capitals, parties from the traditional right were the ones that elected the most mayors in the 1st and 2nd rounds.

The predominance of the neo-liberal, or traditional right contrasts with the failure of candidates supported by Bolsonaro, such as Celso Russomanno, in São Paulo, and Marcelo Crivella, in Rio de Janeiro, also the capital city of a state with the same name. The president, in all stood backed 13 mayoral candidates in all, only two were elected.

Rudá Ricci, a Political Sciences Phd. from the Campinas State University (Unicamp), related these numbers to anti Workers’ Party (PT) sentiment, a phenomenon that has worsened since 2014, due to the Lava Jato anti-corruption operation.

“For more than a decade, and mainly at the national level, voters voted for PT. Never had a party won four elections consecutive elections in Brazil,” he recalled.

“Then came the smear campaign against PT, which confused the voter, or left him in doubt. Then, he migrates to the other side, to the totally new, the apolitical, the entrepreneurial. In a short time, the voter realized that it was a mistake, because in this election, the vote goes to the center and center-right parties. Voters seems to have cast their ballots into candidacies they were already familiar with”.

For Gleisi Hoffmann, it is not possible to point to any political movement as the winner of the 2020 elections.

“The liberal right, represented by parties like PSDB and DEM, faced tough battles in cities where they usually dominate City Halls, such as São Paulo,” analyzed Ricci.

“The political significance of the ‘Centrão’ (centrist) victory is not very expressive, since it was aligned with the PT for some years, and now, is aligned with Bolsonaro and does not have a defined political identity.”

João Paulo Rodrigues, national leader of the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), thinks that Bolsonarism remains a consistent threat, even when “hidden” in traditional parties.

“You can’t underestimate the strength of Bolsonarism. The elections showed the strength of agribusiness in candidacies in the Midwest region, sometimes using parties from the center as proxies, but with Bolsonarista themes nevertheless. By 2022, we will see a migration from Bolsonarism to the parties of the infamous ‘center’, which is his political backup to obtain a second term and further attack us,” he said.

“In the context of a pandemic, people want to solve the problems of hunger and unemployment. I see that our ‘bubble’ on the left, with its anti-Bolsonaro agenda, has failed to address these problems central to the Brazilian people,” he lamented. “In addition, the debate about a broad coalition cannot be left only for the 2nd round. If there was maximum strength and unity in the 1st round, we would have had more reach in the final stretch.”

Limits

Political scientist Paulo Nicoli Ramirez, understands that this year’s election was a “warm-up for the 2022 presidential elections” and showed, mainly, the exhaustion of an ultraconservative narrative that had been on the rise in Brazil since 2013.

However, the massive spread of fake news, continues to wreak havoc. The expert calls attention to the misogynistic and violent campaign against Manuela D’Avila (PCdoB), in Porto Alegre, and Marília Arraes (PT), in Recife, the Pernambuco state capital, who were both defeated in the 2nd round. “Our society is still very archaic with regard to women’s participation in politics,” she pointed out.

Only one Brazilian capital will be led by a woman starting next year: Palmas (Tocantins), where Cinthia Ribeiro won in the 1st round. Eighteen of the 25 people elected to state capitals are white. Of the seven black mayors, three declared themselves white in the last election.

The challenge of unity in the progressive field acquired new elements after the election. Center-left parties such as PSB and PDT had expressive results in large cities – the latter elected candidates in three of the four municipalities in which it reached the 2nd round.

For Rodrigues, leader of the largest social movement in Latin America, the most beautiful campaign, which shed light on the most interesting proposals, took place in Juiz de Fora (Minas Gerais) – where Margarida Salomão (PT) will be the new mayor beginning in 2021.

The final conclusion is that many of the damages wrought by the conservative wave that elected Bolsonaro remain visible. “Progressive parties have not yet revived their good standing among the population as a whole. It will take time to fix what the attacks from the Lava Jato operation caused”.

The pandemic, according to Rodrigues, was a significant aggravating factor. “We were unable to do what the left does best, which is grassroots militancy on the streets, from door to door,” he mentioned. “As of this Monday, November 30th, leftists parties must necessarily convene a debate on unity, and on the organization of political tasks in the country’s largest cities,” concluded the MST leader.

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