Brazil: Ruling party maintains base in municipal elections

Economic storm-clouds threaten tumultuous change

The results of the first round of municipal elections, which were held in Brazil on Sunday October 5, reflect the relative stability that has characterised the last year. The second round of municipal elections will be held on 26 October. In the 20 (out of 26) state capitals, where the sitting mayor was up for re-election, the incumbents were re-elected, in the first round in 13 cases, while the rest were elected in the second round, receiving the highest votes in all but one case.

The basis for this result lies in the relatively high rate of economic growth this year, over 5%, and with that lower unemployment, increases in wages (even if high inflation in food prices has had an effect, especially on the nation’s poorest), and higher consumption (based mostly on a strong increase in credit). The government of President Lula has used this situation to launch a propaganda campaign, portraying Brazil as a country heading for a long period of growth, and stability. On top of this, Lula has declared that the huge new oil reserves that have been discovered will provide for the “final solution” to problems in education, and health.

Lula has seen his approval rating reach record levels of close to 80%. This approval rating was based, not only on economic optimism, but also on programs of compensatory grants, which despite having little effect on the distribution of wealth, has gained Lula support, among poorer layers of the population.

The elections were predicted to strengthen the parties of the federal government. But that was not too difficult, as most of the bigger parties now support Lula’s government. His coalition has now 14 parties. But even his adversaries were careful not to speak out against Lula, during the election campaign. In Rio de Janeiro, four candidates competed for the title of the real “Lula-ists”!

The electoral campaign in Brazil is based totally on TV-adverts (which are free, and distributed according to previous electoral results), and paid electoral workers on the streets, and in the case of sitting mayors, the use of state machinery. The debate is more like a beauty contest, with no political debate, and with each of the main candidates trying to portray themselves as the best administrator: the one who built most schools and hospitals, and who will build even more.

PSOL in the elections

In this situation, PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) had a difficult task, in propagating a project for a different society. This was the first time the party had stood in municipal elections. The party made some important gains, electing 8 councillors in 6 state capitals. PSOL had the councillor with the highest number of votes elected in Fortaleza (fourth biggest city in Brazil), João Alfredo (ex-deputy that came from PT (Workers’ Party – led by Lula). In Maceió (17th biggest city), Heloísa Helena (the party’s president, who came third in the presidential elections in 2006), was also elected, along with another PSOL candidate.

In Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, and 10th biggest city, Luciana Genro, federal deputy for PSOL, stood for mayor, and got an excellent result of 9,2% (72,863 votes), and PSOL got Pedro Ruas elected as councillor, with the second highest vote.

The two other federal deputies of the party also stood for mayor in São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, were they lower results than expected.

Ivan Valente got 42,616 votes (0,67%) in São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, and fourth largest in the world. It was difficult terrain, as the election in the city was the stage for the most important battle of these elections, not only because of the importance of the city, but also because it represented a kind of dress rehearsal for the presidential elections in 2010.

Lula won’t be able to stand in the next election (only one re-election is permitted), and the party doesn’t have any candidate that has any expression in the polls yet. It’s vital for PT to try and build a base in São Paulo, were Lula lost against Alckmin (the president candidate for PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party), the main opposition party), in 2006. On the other hand, there is a struggle over who will be the candidate for PSDB. The party was split in the elections in São Paulo, between Alckmin (ex-governor of São Paulo, who stood against Lula in 2006), and Kassab (the current mayor for DEM, a party that has an alliance with PSDB), who got the support of Serra (the current governor of São Paulo, who stood against Lula in 2002).

The result of the election was that Kassab won the first round, after for a long period at third place in the polls. He will stand in the second round against Marta (PT) who was ahead in the polls throughout campaign. Alckmin, who was second in the polls, suffered a crushing defeat, finishing third. This constituted a final blow to his chances of being the party’s presidential candidate in 2010.

PSOL also lost the 2 councillors (that came from PT) it had in Campinas, the third largest city in the state of São Paulo.

In Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest city, Chico Alencar (the third federal deputy) got 1,8% (59,362 votes), after having been 4-5% in the polls. This was the result of the strong growth of Gabeira (PV, the Greens), who had a similar level of support in the polls in the beginning of the campaign, but ended up in second place, and in the second round. Although the Greens are not a left-wing party, it was perceived as a new alternative. But PSOL managed to get Eliomar Coelho (a councillor who came from PT) re-elected.

Alliances reflects shift to the right

The gains the party made in the election show that, even in this situation of relative stability, there is room for laying the basis for a coherent, left alternative. But unfortunately, the party has, since its foundation lost much of its initial radicalism. The tendency during its two first elections (2006 and 2008), has been to lower its profile in an attempt to increase its chances of getting parliamentary positions.

This was very clear in the electoral campaign in Porto Alegre, where the party made an electoral alliance with the Greens, the PV. In the council elections of 2004, the PV in the city made an alliance with the PP (Progressive Party), one of the most right wing parties, and heir of the Arena party, the party of the military dictatorship! The election campaign was based on a programme with a very low profile, and Luciana Genro even made TV-adverts using statements from her father, the Justice Minister in Lula’s government! On the top of all this, the party accepted a donation of 100,000 Real from Gerdau, a multinational steel corporation.

In Macapá, the capital of Amapá, the party stood in an alliance with PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party), a “centre-left” party, whose candidate for mayor came first, in the first round, and has a chance of winning the second round. That would mean that the party there, would participate in the administration of the state capital, together with a bourgeois party!

This will lead to a crucial debate for the future of the party. Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI’s section in Brazil), argued that the party should only make alliances with worker’s parties, like PSTU (United Socialist Workers’ Party), and PCB (Communist Party), but the majority of the national electoral conference voted for a more “flexible” approach. However, many in the party reacted when PSOL accepted money from Gerdau, and there is the basis for a debate about the future of the party. After the election, the left bloc that SR has been building together with other left groups in PSOL, is going to call meetings, to draw up a balance sheet of the election. As a result of our work in Rio de Janeiro, a new group, Socialist Reaction, has joined the bloc, which now has adopted the name Socialist Resistance, made up of five groups, with a presence in nine states.

SR and CLS results

Socialismo Revolucionário stood with candidates in three cities. In Taboão da Serra, a smaller city in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, where Socialismo Revolucionário has an important base in the teachers union, one comrade stood for mayor, and one for councillor. Miguel Leme, from the teachers union, got 645 votes (0,48%) for mayor, and Edemilon, also a teacher, got 58 votes. In Campinas comrade Raquel stood as councillor, and got 527 votes, and was the 5th most voted candidate of the party. In Campinas, our group has more than doubled during this year, and could make a very good election campaign, and gain new members. We also stood a comrade in Fortaleza (Ceará state), in a campaign to build a base in the city.

In the city of São Paulo, we participated in the campaign of Ronaldo, from CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective). We have been working closely with the CLS, and have the perspective of fusing our forces at the beginning of next year. Ronaldo is a known activist in his community, a favela (shantytown) that struggles for urbanisation of the area. He got an excellent 2,164 votes, and was the 5th most voted-for of the council candidates for PSOL.

In Niterói, city next to Rio de Janeiro, we supported the campaign of Manoel Martins, an 84 year old left activist, launched by Socialist Reaction. He got 1,201 votes, and got the third highest vote for PSOL in the city. In Rio de Janeiro we supported Babá, an ex-federal deputy, and member of CST (Brazilian section of UST), who got 8,010 votes, and got the second highest PSOL vote, but was not elected.


This period of stability won’t last for long. Lula, and his government, have during the last year, denied that Brazil will be affected by the world economic crisis. In fact, Brazil is in a much better position than in previous financial crisis, with a record monetary reserve, of over 200 billion dollars in the central bank. Because of the country’s history of financial crisis, the financial sector is much more regulated, but the country is not immune for the storms in the financial markets. The day after the election (October 6), the stock exchange plunged 15% in the morning, reflecting the international turmoil. The stock exchange is among the biggest losers this year, as the recent drop in commodity prices hit the giants of Petrobras (oil), and Vale (mining). The Real, which has being strengthened during the last years, because of an inflow of capital, and positive balance of trade, has fallen almost 40% in two months against the dollar.

But the real effect of the crisis on Brazil will come as the recession bites the world economy. Brazil’s growth has been based on a favourable world market, but also in a strong growth of credit. These two factors are now reversing, and we will probably see a big drop in growth the coming period, and with that a rise in unemployment. The bosses are preparing for more confrontation, there are much more attacks on trade unions, coordinated with the state, in a real wave of criminalisation of workers organisations, and social movements. It is becoming much more common to have trade unions fined for holding meetings outside factory gates, leafleting, or holding marches. Earlier this year, there was even an attempt to attack the MST (the mighty landless workers movement) by the local authorities, in Rio Grande do Sul.

The left in Brazil has a big responsibility to build a united fight back, in the political arena, but also in the trade unions, and social movements. To political debate within PSOL must be seen against this background. We stand in elections to defend the interest of the workers, and elect spokespeople for the struggle. Parliamentary seats are not an end in themselves. The political price for making opportunistic alliances with bourgeois parties is not new to the workers movement. The failure of PT is a testimony to that.

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October 2008