2016 elections: Few chances for renewal

Brasil Observer - Sep 08 2016

(Leia em Português)


Brazilians go to the polls on October 2nd to choose mayors and councillors. New electoral rules do not favour political change


By Wagner de Alcântara Aragão

A shorter, more discreet, and in theory cheaper electoral campaign. That’s what is expected for Brazil’s municipal elections this year, after a reform approved by Congress in 2015. Despite some progress – such as the ban of corporate donations to election campaign financing – the changes must frustrate those who crave political renewal and more legitimate and ethics practices.

For the political scientist Emerson Urizzi Cervi, professor at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), the shorter campaign becomes an obstacle for less known candidates to communicate and present their proposals to the voter. This year’s campaign (started on August 16) will last 45 days, half of the 90 days of the previous elections. In addition, electoral propaganda on radio and television was also reduced.

“[The changes in electoral legislation] benefit those who are already known. So either the elector votes for those running for re-election or choose sportsmen, figures of the media or religious leaders who are already known,” says Cervi to the Brasil Observer. “What the electoral reform did was diminish the real options for the voter. Then we cannot complain if we see a high rate of re-election or growth of religious pastors in politics,” criticizes the professor.



Electoral debates, especially those promoted by TV broadcasters, hardly offer a consistent forum for ideas and proposals discussion. Starting from the time they are held and transmitted – usually after 10pm, advancing the early morning hours. Most of the population who need to wake up early to work and study is not able to follow these debates.

In addition, the rules often lock discussions. Usually what we see are short statements made by the candidates trained by their staff about pre-established and general issues. Only in the second round there is a greater possibility of confrontation, but of the 5,568 Brazilian cities, only 92 have more than 200,000 voters, where it is possible to have a second vote between the two mayoral candidates with the most votes in the first round.



The electoral reform approved in 2015 also made the participation of candidates in the debates more restricted. Under the new electoral law, organizers of the debates are only required to invite candidates of parties with more than nine parliamentarians in the national Chamber of Deputies. The inclusion of politicians that do not meet this requirement depend on the agreement of the other competitors. This restriction came to be overturned by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) on August 25.

“The possibility of the TV broadcasters to invite candidates that do not meet the criteria established by the law, without the consent of other candidates, can bring greater democratic density to the electoral process,” said Minister of STF Dias Toffoli. “The normative regulation cannot compromise public debate, under penalty of transgressing the deliberative democracy, which culminated by annihilating the basic law requiring the State respect for the principle of equal opportunities”, said Minister Celso de Mello.

Still, in the two first debates promoted by Bandeirantes TV in São Paulo (on August 22) and in Rio de Janeiro (on August 25), the candidates of PSOL (Socialism and Freedom Party) – Luiza Erundina in São Paulo and Marcelo Freixo in Rio – were unable to attend. Both Erundina and Freixo are appointed by opinion polls as strong competitors in their disputes.



It’s not only the shortest election campaign; it coincided with the final stage of the impeachment process again President Dilma Rousseff.

Despite this, political scientist Emerson Cervi believes the national situation should not have a more significant impact on the elections next October. “I do not believe so. Elections are local, where national issues are far away for more than 90% of the municipalities,” he says to the Brasil Observer. “In Brazil, 50% of municipalities have up to 20,000 voters, so they are very small and the municipal election is to discuss local issues. From more than 5,000 municipalities only 92 have a second round that is, an election in which disputes of local groups matter more than the national situation.”



With the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the resurgence of the centre-right and right-wing forces, which political spectrum should emerge from the municipal elections in October? According to the professor of UFPR, it’s hard to make a diagnosis. “In general, the left has a tired discourse in Brazil, as well as the rest of the world. In Europe, the far right is growing with the dissatisfaction of ordinary people. In Brazil, the phenomenon is similar,” compares Cervi.

The high number of political parties in Brazil makes it complicated to draw a projection. However, things seem more favourable for conservative forces. “As there are many parties [disputing the municipal elections], it is not possible to anticipate which of them should take advantage. What is expected is [greater advantage for] small and medium centre-right and right-wing parties,” says the political scientist.



An almost unanimous understanding among political analysts is the lack of outstanding leaders – worse than that, the absolute lack of new emerging leaders in the short term. The current mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad (Workers Party), who is seeking re-election, and Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes (Democratic Movement Party), are often mentioned as potential leaders – for administering the two largest cities of the country.

The consolidation of this power, however, will depend on both performances in the elections this year. Haddad, according to early polls, will struggle to get re-elected – Celso Russomanno (Republican Party) and former mayor Marta Suplicy (Democratic Movement Party) lead the race; the current mayor shares the third place with the also former mayor Luiza Erundina (Socialism and Freedom Party). But the São Paulo Executive leader tends to grow during the campaign.

Eduardo Paes is already in his second term, so he cannot be elected again this time. He supports the candidate Pedro Paulo (Democratic Movement Party), who at the moment does not reach the two-digit intention of vote – Senator Marcelo Crivella (Republican Party), State Deputy Marcelo Freixo (Socialism and Freedom Party) and Federal Deputy Jandira Feghali (Communist Party) are ahead of Paes’ candidate. As the campaign progresses and the population associates the name of Pedro Paulo to Paes, it is likely that the candidate will improve in the polls.

Anyway, in the evaluation of Emerson Cervi, it is very difficult to imagine a national leader emerging in the municipal elections. “In the electoral history of Brazil few mayors managed national projection directly. Usually the City Hall is the starting point for the Congress or the State Government, and from the to the national scene,” considers the political scientist.



Main rules established by the electoral reform:

  • Political affiliation: until last April 2 (before the candidate had to be affiliated to a political party a year before the election)
  • Campaign period: 45 days (previously 90 days)
  • The advertising period for candidates on radio and television has also decreased, from 45 to 35 days, beginning on August 26, in the first round. The campaign will have two blocks on the radio and two on television with ten minutes each. In addition to the blocks, the parties are entitled to 70 minutes daily in inserts, which will be distributed among the mayoral candidates (60%) and city council (40%). In 2016, these inserts may only be 30 or 60 seconds each.
  • Corporate financing is prohibited. Only the financing of individuals is permitted (maximum 10% of the gross income of the donor) and also through features of the party fund.
  • Applications have maximum ceiling for expenditure defined based on higher expenses declared in municipal elections 2012 (within the respective constituency).

Source: Superior Electoral Court (TSE)



  • 144,088,912 voters in Brazil
  • 5,568 municipalities
  • 92 municipalities with more than 200,000 voters
  • October 2, the date of the first round
  • October 30, the date of the second round (municipalities with more than 200,000 voters where the first place does not reach 50% plus one of the valid votes)

Source: Superior Electoral Court (TSE)