Municipal Elections in Brazil and Chile

Yesterday, Brazil held its second run-off round of municipal elections in 50 cities, including 17 state capitals, after the first round earlier this month. In total, another 31.7 million people voted yesterday, after 138 million took to the polls in the first round. The biggest race yesterday was for mayor of São Paulo, Brazil’s (and South America’s) largest city, with the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad running against Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate José Serra after the frontrunner for much of the campaign, evangelical politician Celso Russomanno, was upset in the first round. Serra had served as mayor of São Paulo once before, leaving office in his second year to run for governor of the State. Meanwhile, Haddad had been far behind for much of the campaign, with only 8% support as late as August and 15% in late September. However, Haddad easily won the election yesterday, defeating Serra 55%-44%. His strong showing is due in part to his charisma, his ability to mobilize and appeal to broad swaths of São Paulo’s workers class (which overwhelmingly supported him), and in part with paulistas‘ uncertainty over the 70-year-old Serra. The victory is an important one for the PT, giving it the country’s largest city and providing a sign of potential leadership for the next generation of PT politicians. Meanwhile, the fate of the PSDB is even more uncertain than it was after the 2010 presidential elections. As I wrote elsewhere back then, the 2010 election was in no small part also a question of whether Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s center-right PSDB or Lula’s center-left PT would outlast their founders at the national level. With the victory of Dilma Rousseff over Serra that year, PT showed it had the institutional authority to continue in the executive beyond Lula, something the PSDB has yet been able to show. That’s not to say the PSDB is about to die – it has strong congressional and gubernatorial presence – but with the constant rejection of Serra and the exit of Cardoso from politics, it’s not clear the party has a “face” to represent it nationally. Some are suggesting it could be Aécio Neves, but it remains to see whether he’ll be willing to run against the remarkably-popular Rousseff in 2014.

Again, that is not to say the PSDB is finished. While the PT took the biggest “prize” in São Paulo yesterday, the PSDB won another 4 capitals. However, perhaps the biggest victor yesterday was the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), which took five capitals, including three yesterday Fortaleza, Cuiabá, Porto Velho, in addition to taking Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais and Recife in Pernambuco yesterday. It is worth noting that, aside from Belo Horizonte (the country’s third-largest capital, the other four cities are all in the North and Northeast, which are the poorer regions in recent history.  And in a troubling trend for a country that is allegedly moving towards greater equality in politics, out of 26 state capitals in Brazil, only one has a woman mayor – Boa Vista, capital of Roraima, elected Teresa Surita of the centrist PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party).

Brazil was not the only country with municipal elections yesterday. Chileans also went to the polls to vote for mayors throughout the country, and if Brazil’s turnout was high, well….Chile’s was not, with only 40% of the electorate showing up for voluntary voting. However, there were some significant results. The leftist opposition parties took several major elections, inlcuding in Santiago, where leftist candidate Carolina Tohá defeated right-wing incumbent Pablo Zalaquett. The victory is significant beyond serving as a rejection of Zalaquett and his ally, President Sebastián Piñera. Zalaquett has repeatedly called on the police and used force to repress student strikes, while Tohá has repeatedly spoken out in favor of students. Additionally, the election of Tohá, who had served as former President Michelle Bachelet’s spokeswoman and whose father died under torture during the military regime of Augusto Pinochet, provides a possible model (or even leader) for the leftist Concertación as it tries to take the presidential elections next year.  And speaking of the ongoing legacy of memory and the dictatorship in modern Chilean politics, in Nunoa, Maya Fernandez Allende, granddaughter of former president Salvador Allende (who was overthrown in a coup in 1973) won election.

[UPDATE]: Boz has more numbers for Brazil. The PSB had “only” 442 mayoral candidates win, but it saw the greatest total increase in seats held. The Centrist PMDB won the greatest total number (1,025 seats), with the PSDB taking 693 and the PT, 628. Though the PT is third in total numbers (and suffered many losses to the PSB), in terms of national politics, the fact that it and not the PSDB is the natural ally for the PSB and has maintained continuing alliances with the PMDB helps explain in part why the PT has been ascendant while the PSDB, while still strong in the Congress, is not the force it was in the 1990s.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Chile, Democracy in the Americas, Elections in Latin America, Latin American Politics, São Paulo. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Municipal Elections in Brazil and Chile

  1. Randy Paul says:

    One of my brothers-in-law ran for vereador in Araçuaí, MG, in the heart of the Jequitinonha Valley. He invested nothing in media and got his butt kicked, assuming that everyone would know of him already. Name recognition only gets you so far.

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