Brazil, a divided country: Post-election analysis

Brazil, a divided country: Post-election analysis

By: Theo Saad, Senior CAPP Consultant Brazil, and Bruno de Castro, Jr PR Consultant.

Results coming from the ballot boxes on Sunday throughout Brazil pictured a divided country as the left and far-right amassed the majority of the votes. PT, the Workers Party, conquered 48,4% of the 123,6 million votes casted, while the far right, led by PL, the Liberal Party, had 43,2% – another 2,82% annulled their votes and 1,59% left the digital ballot blank.

The way elections for the Executive branch are held in Brazil, means that voters will return to electoral booths on October 30th to cast a second vote, to decide who the next president will be: whether Mr. Jair Messias Bolsonaro (PL) will secure a second consecutive term or if Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) will make a comeback after 12 years.

In the short term, it means that Brazil will continue to see a hard fight in the electoral campaign for the next three and a half weeks. Fake news on social media and attacks during press interviews from both sides will be the toxic. TV stations and other media outlets are expecting to host 4 debates between Mr. Lula da Silva and Mr. Bolsonaro from now until October 30th. Before the first round of elections, Mr. Lula forfeited one of the three debates scheduled. During the 2018 election, Mr. Bolsonaro didn´t attend any television debates. This time around, in a tight race, neither candidate can afford to miss the opportunity to address the nation during prime time and, more importantly, to question the opponent.

The second turn – what to expect

This year 12 candidates put their names out there. Political analysts always say that the first ballot is for the voter to choose his candidate, and the second ballot is to reject the other. Pollsters in Brazil say that the rejection sentiment for Mr. Bolsonaro is considerably higher than Mr. Lula da Silva. The latest polls showed Mr. Bolsonaro’s rejection is approximately 50% (52% in DataFolha, 46% in IPEC, 50% in PoderData) and Mr. Lula’s rejection around 40% (40% in DataFolha, 38% in IPEC and 41% in PoderData).

The question is simple: “Which candidate would you never vote for?” Since this is considered by the electoral campaign coordinators the most influential aspect of the second turn, both campaigns will focus more on making the other look bad, publishing negative quotes and past actions that could discredit the opponent. All serious discussion around public policy, jobs, education, healthcare, the economy will be non-existent during the next campaign weeks.

The Electoral Justice (TSE, the government agency of the Judiciary responsible for overseeing elections) is committed to blocking fake news and personal attacks, but there is a significant delay, and by the time a post is removed the damage is done. The TSE cannot, for instance, control what’s shared on WhatsApp and Telegram, the most used social media to spread fake news.

TSE also needs a strong hand to put to rest all discredit that Mr. Bolsonaro, his party and his allies have raised against the digital electoral voting machine and the counting process. Analysts are saying that this will be a minor concern now that many politicians supported by Mr. Bolsonaro have won their seats in States Governments, in the Senate, and in the House of Representatives. To discredit the system now is to put under suspicion his allies’ results.

Distrust in polls and possible effects on the results

There is a widespread distrust among the far right and right Brazilian voters of pollsters mainly because most people do not differentiate “vote intention” from “voting results” and think that the poll’s findings are a prediction. Polling methodology is not explained to the common voter and only the more politically engaged have a certain degree of knowledge of how polls are conducted.

But how can it influence the result on October 30th? If the far-right narrative, that pollsters are rigging results, gains traction the absentees can feel incentivized to vote and turn the election around. The abstention in the first round was close to 21%, which means 32,7 million voters, or 5,3 times the gap of 6,187 million votes that sets Lula and Bolsonaro apart.

Support from other candidates

In the first two days post-election defeated candidates waited for the dust to settle and work out who they will support. The absentees and other candidates’ voters will decide this election, once either Lula or Bolsonaro votes are crystallized.

In this matter, neither has the upper hand. Mr. Lula was granted PDT (Labour Democratic Party) support which is Mr. Ciro Gomes party. Although it has been pointed out that he didn’t announce his personal support for Lula and only said that he will go wherever his party goes. He is a well-renowned politician, who faced a downturn in this election, coming only in fourth place with 3% of the votes. He had 6% of voting intention last week and was abandoned by half of his voters on election day. Since Mr. Lula’s votes were in line with polls predictions and Mr. Bolsonaro’s votes surged, the electoral math would say that Mr. Gome’s votes turned right.

So the question remains: what direction will the other 3,6 million of Mr. Gomes votes take?

The third most voted for candidate, Mrs. Simone Tebet, from MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement, a centrist party), declared her support for Mr. Lula da Silva. But her party, one of the big five, were much more tepid in their support.

This could be sufficient to secure a victory for PT and Mr. Lula da Silva. But Bolsonaro has also gathered important support in three key states – São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro – which are also the three most populous. Romeu Zema, reelected governor of Minas Gerais in the first turn, declared full support for Bolsonaro, where he had just lost by a narrow margin. And In São Paulo, the most populous state, Bolsonaro has the strongest candidate for governor, his former Infrastructure Minister, Tarcísio de Freitas, as well support from Rodrigo Garcia, acting governor. Even though Mr. Garcia could not secure a spot in the second round of voting in São Paulo, he’s from the PSDB party, which held power in the state for 28 years. And the reelected governor of Rio de Janeiro, Claudio Castro, is also a strong supporter.

Low renewal rate in the Chamber of Deputies

Of the 513 federal deputies elected last Sunday, 202 will serve for the first time. The percentage of new parliamentarians in the Chamber was well below the 47.4% obtained in 2018. 57.3% of the deputies of the next legislature (294 parliamentarians) were reelected and 3.31% will return to the House after a period outside (17 parliamentarians). As a result, the Chamber’s renewal rate drops to 39% after the record of the last election.

Growth of the right-wing in the Chamber of Deputies

The Liberal Party (PL), of Mr. Bolsonaro, will have the largest bench in the Chamber in 2023, with 99 elected deputies, an increase of 23 congressmen in relation to the current bench. Parties with more elected deputies take the largest share of the Party Fund – public resources intended for the electoral campaign and maintenance of parties with representation in the legislature. In all, Centrão or center-right parties had 273 deputies.

On the other hand, the Workers’ Party (PT) and left-wing parties won 138 seats. The federation of Mr. Lula managed to elect 80 deputies, up 3 seats compared to the current legislature. Other parties that declared support for Mr Lula obtained 59 seats. In other words, Lula’s direct support base, if elected, will be 138 deputies

Members’ relationship with the next president-elect

With a majority bench for Mr. Bolsonaro, the new composition of the Chamber is an advantageous scenario for the current president, but experts point out that Centrão’s performance can modulate according to the president who is elected. This group usually adheres to the governing base regardless of the ideology of the party in power.

It is expected that with a Chamber of Deputies with a broad government base, the president’s customs agenda – which did not progress during Bolsonaro’s first term – will begin. Due to the greater strength of moderate center-right parties, the president’s social agenda, which includes conservatism on issues such as abortion and family composition, has been paused in recent years, with the Congress giving preference to the government’s economic agenda.

More conservative Senate and the risk for the Federal Supreme Court

The Liberal Party, of Mr. Bolsonaro, will have the largest bench in the Federal Senate. Parliamentarians are elected for an eight-year term, and PL won eight senators and will occupy 14 of the 81 seats in the House.

This scenario worries political analysts who point to the possibility of the president increasing the tone against the Federal Supreme Court, promoting impeachment requests against the ministers of the Court. The current Senate legislature, in which Mr. Bolsonaro did not have a majority of parliamentarians, resisted instituting the requests of the president and his militancy – which has focused on the attacks against Minister Alexandre de Moraes, president of the Superior Electoral Court.

The center-right parties will have 66 of the 81 seats available in the House. On the left-wing, there are 15 senators. PT will have the largest bench, with nine seats. There are 12 names directly linked to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. On the other hand, the new composition has 24 vacancies expressly linked to Bolsonaro.

More than half of the Brazilian States chose their governors in the first round

Last Sunday, 15 of the 27 states and the Federal District elected their governors in the first round of elections. Of these, 12 were reelected. The 12 remaining states are expected to choose the government on October 30th, along with the second round for the presidency.

An important change took place in the largest electoral college in the country, the state of São Paulo, where there will be a second round between Fernando Haddad (PT) and Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans), leaving the current governor, Rodrigo Garcia (PSDB), out of the race. PSDB will leave São Paulo government after 28 consecutive years in power. After the election, Garcia declared support for President Jair Bolsonaro and his candidate in the State dispute, Tarcísio de Freitas.

Among the reelected candidates, the victory of Cláudio Castro (PL), in Rio de Janeiro, and Romeu Zema (Novo), in Minas Gerais, will strengthen the support base of President Jair Bolsonaro in the three largest electoral colleges in the country. With the new elected governments, President Jair Bolsonaro gains space on the electoral platform in 15 of the 27 states – despite having official support from 4 parties. On the other hand, Lula has the support of 4 elected governors and 13 parties.

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