Brazil: Government parties win municipal elections

But growing contradictions for President Dilma Rouseff, as Party of Socialism and Freedom makes gains

On 7 October, 138.5 million voters went to the polls in Brazil to elect councillors and mayors in 5,568 municipalities. Of the 83 municipalities with more than 200 voters [?], where a second round is held if no candidate gets more than 50% of valid votes, new elections will take place in 50 of them (including 17 state capitals) on 28 October.

The results, so far, point to an advantage for the parties that make up the base of support for the government of President Dilma Rousseff, from the Worker’s Party (PT).

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), of the current vice-president of the republic, Michel Temer, had a majority of mayors elected. It won 1,018 mayoral positions (previously it had 1,201). It was followed by the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), the main party of the traditional right wing opposition to Dilma’s government. The PSDB elected 692 mayors (down from 787). The Worker’s Party (PT) came third, with 627 mayors (up from 558).

While the PMDB and PSDB got a lower number of mayors, the PT grew slightly. However, it was the PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party) that managed to make a leap, rising from 310 to 433 mayors in the first round of the elections.

Until now, the small growth of the PT has not been in the major cities or state capitals. The party only won one state capital (Goiânia, in the state of Goiás) on the first round. However, it is contesting the second round in six more capitals. These include important cities like Salvador (Bahia), Fortaleza (Ceará) and the most important, São Paulo (state of São Paulo). The results of the second round in these crucial cities will complete the picture of the elections.

The Party of Socialism and Freedom, PSOL, also within certain limits experienced a certain growth. It elected its first mayor in the small city of Itaocara (state of Rio de Janeiro) and goes into the second round, with real chances of winning, in two state capitals: Belém (state of Pará) and Macapá (state of Amapá). Moreover, it went from having 25 elected councillors to 49. Twenty two of them are in state capitals.

The importance of the São Paulo contest

The second round in São Paulo, the biggest city in the county, will be decisive for the plans of PT and will define how big the PT’s growth has been. In São Paulo, the ex-president Lula, who still acts as the main political strategist of Worker’s Party nationally, imposed a new candidate for mayor; the ex-minister of education, Fernando Haddad. In the same way that he appointed Dilma Rousseff, Lula made every effort to transfer his prestige to the new candidate in São Paulo. With a lot of difficulties, he managed to guarantee that his candidate went to the second round.

The main obstacle for PT in São Paulo was the emergence of a right wing populist candidate, Celso Russomano. He comes from a party controlled by the biggest pentecostal church in the country, which also is part of the base of support of Dilma’s government. Russomano’s public image was built around consumer rights’ issues. In an era of “unlimited” incentives for consumption and credit, one of the main pillars of “Lulism” in the last period, this bastard son of “Lulism” almost took the PT’s political space in the capital, São Paulo.

Haddad has a strong chance of winning the second round. In part, this is because of the mass rejection of his opponent, José Serra from the PSDB. He has been the “eternal” candidate of the traditional right in the city. A new defeat for José Serra, who had already lost to Dilma and Lula in the presidential elections, will mean the end of his political career. It will also complicate the difficult process of reorganization of the traditional right in Brazil.

The growth of the PSB and tensions in Dilma’s base

An important aspect of these elections was the growth of PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party). The PSB elected 434 mayors and came sixth. It was a growth of 41% in the number of mayors and 51% in the number of votes.

In spite of its, name (a number of political parties in Brazil have “social” or “socialist” in their names), the PSB is a bourgeois party. It governs in important states like Pernambuco and Ceará (Both in the northeast region of the country). It wins part of its support from Dilma’s government. However, in some regions it supports the PSDB and the traditional right wing.

The PSB is ruled by iron fist by the current state governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos. His main objective is to build himself as a reference point for the presidential elections in 2014, preferably as vice-president candidate together with Dilma. To do this, the party will have to replace the PMDB which is still the biggest party in the country.

The strengthening of the PSB also took place in open conflict with PT in important cities. In Recife (capital of Pernambuco), the PSB’s candidate defeated the PT, which currently has the mayor, deepening the crises of the PT in the city. In Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais and the fourth biggest electorate), the PSB’s candidate, with the support of PSDB’s state governor, defeated the PT’s candidate who had the explicit support of Dilma Rousseff and Lula.

The impact of the trial of “the big monthly allowance”

The elections took place against the backdrop of one of the most spectacular trials held by the judicial power in Brazil. For weeks, the ministers of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, shown on live TV, have been judging those involved in the mega corruption scandal known as “big monthly allowance”. Seven years ago this provoked the downfall of Lulas’ strongman, his chief of staff, José Dirceu. It was a severe blow against the Lula government during its first term in office.

According to the Attorney General, there was a huge scheme of corruption involving the diversion of public funds to buy the votes of members of the parliament with the objective of getting neo-liberal reforms approved.

Dozens of personalities, including PT leaders, members of parliament, politically-appointed public servants, chiefs of public and private banks, etc., were accused of being part of a large criminal gang.

Besides the ex-minister, José Dirceu, among those already convicted are the ex-national president of the PT, José Genoíno, the ex-party treasurer, Delúbio Soares and the ex-speaker of the lower house of the Congress. Dozens of others have already been convicted in this unique episode of Brazilian history.

With the conviction of the accused in the “big monthly allowance” scheme, the neo-liberal reforms approved in the national congress (thanks to the “purchasing” of members of the parliament), like the pension reform implemented by Lula, are being questioned by the left, the trade union movement and others.

Notwithstanding the impressive dimension of this episode, it has had little political impact in the municipal elections. An important layer of the middle class only reaffirmed its anti-PT stance. Another layer sought alternatives to the left. The relative growth of the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Freedom) partly resulted from the growing opposition to corruption.

However, the majority of the vote for parties linked to Dilma’s government reflected relative economic stability and hope by many voters that the possibilities of access to the consumption boom will continue.

Yet there was still a significant growth in abstentions and ‘blank’ and invalid votes. Even though voting is obligatory in Brazil, a significant layer of the electorate refused to vote for any candidate. In São Paulo, 28% of the voters (2,4 million) did not vote at all or voted blank/invalid. In the previous election (2008), the number was 22%. In Salvador (Bahia), the number grew from 19,7% in 2008 to 34% this year.

In cities marked by recent corruption scandals, the increase in abstention rate is even higher. That is the case in Campinas (state of São Paulo) where, since the last election, the invalid votes grew by 128%, blank votes by 82% and abstention by 33%. In total, 37% of the voters did not vote for any candidate.

Signs of weakening of the model of “Lulism”

Despite the government’s triumphalist rhetoric, the international economic crisis is already affecting Brazil. Growth this year will be even lower than last year, despite tax exemptions to employers and fiscal incentives to capitalists measures.

Brazilian economic dependence on the Asian market, especially China, is showing its two sides, as those economies start to slow down. The priority for Dilma’s government, as it was for Lula, is the export of primary products and the strengthening of the capitalists that are based on agribusiness, mining and financial capital. At the same time, the country risks de-industrialization and an economic backlash.

Another main pillar of Lulism, the expansion of domestic market through consumer credit, is also starting to show its limitations. Consumer credit cannot grow much more than it already has and the first signs of excessive indebtedness and debts default are starting to appear.

The response from Dilma when faced with the first crisis signals was to promote a neoliberal shock. On the one hand, Dilma guarantee tax exemptions and incentives to big private capital, on the other hand, she implements deep social cuts. The refusal of the government to meet the demands of the federal public servants provoked the biggest strike in that sector since the beginning of Lula’s government. This strike involved 300,000 workers throughout the country.

Dilma’s government is privatising airports, ports, railways and roads. A new counter reform of the pension system is being drawn up and new measures to make labour rights guaranteed in law more flexible are also being prepared.

Organised workers have responded with industrial action. Beyond federal public servants, workers in public transport have struck in many cities. More than 300,000 building workers laid down tools in the big cities and also on infra structure projects, some in the Amazonian region. Bank and mail workers, as well as some private industries, also took part in important industrial struggles.

In many of those struggles, as in the case of the federal universities a new trade union leadership have emerged in opposition to the pro-government union leadership. However, even trade union leaderships linked to the PT and the government were forced to lead strikes as a result of the pressures from the ranks. This has lead to growing tensions between the government and its base in the trade union bureaucracy.

Cities in a state of undeclared civil war

Brazilian cities, especially the big metropolitan areas, are in an undeclared state of civil war. A dramatic example is the city of São Paulo where 69 favelas have been set ablaze this year alone. Since 2008, 530 favelas have been burnt to the ground. The link between those fires and the attempt to evict families to free up land for real estate speculation is clear.

A similar process have been seen in Rio de Janeiro as part of the process of preparation for the 2016 Olympics and in several cities in the case of the football 2014 World Cup.

In various cities in the state of São Paulo there is a virtual war between the organised crime and the military police. The response from the military police to the attacks from criminal gangs have already provoked the death of many black youth in the periphery, whose only crime is to be poor and black.

The huge shortage of housing, public transport, public health and education in the cities can only be dealt with through an organised struggle of workers and the building of a anti-capitalist and socialist political alternative.

The growth of PSOL

On of the characteristics of the first round in these elections was the growth of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL). The simple fact that the party is going into the second round with a real chance of winning in two capitals (Belém and Macapá) is a reflection of the importance of the growth of PSOL. However, it may be in Rio de Janeiro, where PSOL did not manage to guarantee entering the second round, that the strengthening of the party is more evident.

PSOL’s mayoral candidate in Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Freixo, got an incredible 28% of the valid votes. It did not succeed in stopping the current mayor, Eduardo Paes, from the PMDB, from winning in the first round. Paes was the candidate of an alliance of 20 parties, including the PT.

Freixo’s campaign mobilised thousands of volunteers on a scale not seen for a long time – since the PT turned into a party of the capitalist establishment. The Party of Socialism and Freedom elected four councillors in Rio de Janeiro, doubling its group in the municipal chamber.

With the support of the PT going to the candidate of the PMDB, a big opportunity was opened on the left that PSOL managed to fill and capitalise on. This also happened in Belém, where PSOL’s candidate, Edmilson Rodrigues (who was a mayor for PT in the past) occupied the space of the old PT in this election. The PT’s candidate won only 3% of the votes.

In other state capitals, even without winning, PSOL got some important results. In the case of Florianópolis (state of Santa Catarina) it won 14.4%, in Fortaleza (Ceará) it won 11.8%, in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais) it took 4.2% and 3.6% in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte, with Robério Paulino, a member of LSR/CWI as candidate).

Among other cities, with over 200 voters, a distinguished result was obtained in Niterói, in Rio de Janeiro, where PSOL got 18.4% of the vote for mayor and elected three councillors (All three, as well as the mayoral candidate, where from the left wing of the party. Two of them were with the direct involvement of the LSR/CWI in the campaign).

The party leaped from 25 to 49 councillors. Twenty two of them of them were elected in state capitals. Besides PSOL, the PSTU (Unified Socialist Worker’s Party), after a long time, elected two councillors, in Belém and Natal.

The growth of PSOL in the elections reflects also a new phase in the struggles and mobilisations in the country. In Natal, an explosion of mobilisations by youth stopped an increase public transport in fares. PSOL’s campaign, with a decisive participation from LSR/CWI, played a crucial role in these struggles and helped in the construction of a programme that reflected the real aspirations of youth and workers.

In many cities, the polarization between the PT and the PSDB led to pressure on voters to opt for so-called “lesser evil”, which took votes from PSOL. Even so, the party got some impressive results and there is now the prospect for greater growth. Where there is a second round, PSOL has no reason to support any candidate, including those from the PT. It should organise a ‘third round’; one of struggle and resistance against any government that will be elected at state and local level.

Debate and internal struggle in PSOL

The potential for the growth for PSOL, however, can be under threat, depending on the programme and decisions that some of the leadership will take. In the run up to the elections there was an intense debate about electoral alliances. A fragile majority of the national leadership approved a policy of reaching out to parties involved in the coalition of Dilma’s government (including the PT itself, PCdoB, PSB, etc.) and small parties that mainly are “rent-a-party” for political machines for careerists. The only parties vetoed were those from the traditional right like the PSDB, DEM, etc.

In some of the cities where PSOL won the best result, like Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, Fortaleza, Florianópolis, Natal, etc., the party stood alone or as part of a Left Front with PSTU and PCB.

In Belém, the electoral alliance headed by PSOL, included the PSTU and the PCdoB (Communist Party of Brazil, which, in spite of the name, today is a party within the bourgeois establishment and totally integrated to the regime and system). The left of PSOL opposed the inclusion of PCdoB in the alliance. In addition, PSOL in Belém, ended up accepting financial contributions from private companies, thus going against the decisions of the party. The left of the party also took a firm stand against that.

In the second round, the possibility of victory exerts a strong pressure on the party to water down its political profile. A very negative fact is the linking up of PSOL in the second round with the PT, whose defeated candidate is supporting Edmilson Rodrigues from PSOL. This only serves to discredit PSOL and end up confusing workers and even harming the electoral results of the party.

However, the greatest risk is present in Macapá, state capital of the small Amazonian state of Amapá. In the second round, sections of the right approached PSOL, to try and use it in the dispute against their opponents within the local oligarchies. Unfortunately, until now, neither the local leadership nor the majority of the national leadership of the party has taken a clear stand against these kind of alliances. These are real threats. Previously, sections of the party in the 2010 elections, especially senator Randolfe Rodrigues, backed a right wing candidate on the second round in the state.

This part of the PSOL in Amapá represents a right wing of the party and is supported by the fragile and unstable majority of the national leadership of PSOL. The biggest tendency in the leadership, called Socialist Popular Action (APS, of Castroite origin), recently went through a split with the left wing denouncing the policies implemented in Amapá. This rupture destabilised the balance of forces in the party and created a situation of great internal instability.

In the next period, PSOL will go through an intense internal debate and struggle and that will define the course of the party in the next period. The presidential elections in 2014 will be up for debate. The most right-wing sector of the party leadership is proposing that the party should not stand its own candidate and should instead support Marina Silva. She is an ex-minister in Lulas’ government who broke with PT and stood as presidential candidate for the Green Party (PV) in 2010. On that occasion, PSOLs’ presidential candidate, Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, correctly called Marina an “eco-capitalist” and denounced her position to try to conciliate with the PT and the PSDB.

A broad alliance of sections of PSOL which are against this policy of alliances with pro-capitalist parties could be victorious in the coming party congress. LSR defends this unity against a project of support for Marina and the electoralism practiced by the current majority. However, we think that, beyond that. It is necessary to build a coherent left pole in PSOL that can reclaim the original project upon which the party was founded and advance in the direction of building a big anti-capitalist and socialist mass party, that is democratic and based on the struggle of workers.

LSR’s intervention

The Brazilian section of CWI (the Liberty, Socialism and Revolution (LSR) current) was strengthened during the electoral process. We stood a mayoral candidate in one capital (Natal, Rio Grande do Norte) and played an important role in the campaign of several candidates for mayor and councillor in other cities. LSR members stood as council candidates in seven cities. Altogether, we stood candidates in four states, and helped candidates in several others.

Our main result was political and organisational. We have bigger, stronger and more organised branches in all cities were we stood candidates. One example is the work in Natal, which will serve as an important base for building the LSR in the whole north-eastern region of the country.

In Taboão da Serra, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, our campaign won the political support of one of the most important movements of struggle for urban housing in the country, the MTST (Roof-less Worker’s Movement). The MTST organises urban occupations involving thousands of families. Our candidate was the only one supported by the movement in the whole country.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the work did in Niterói, together with a current of PSOL called Socialist React, resulted in the election of two councillors, whose mandates, also with our participation, will be tools in the struggle of workers’ for their rights.

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October 2012