Two months until Election Day: what is at stake

. Sep 15, 2020
election day brazil

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Today, what you need to know about the election season. The devastation of the Pantanal wetlands. And why you shouldn’t expect reforms in 2020.

Election countdown: 60 days

In exactly two months, Brazilians in 5,568 municipalities will elect new mayors and city councilors.

Last week, we explained the country&#8217;s <a href="">plan to hold safe elections</a> during a pandemic. Now, we explain what will be at stake on November 15.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> While the themes of municipal elections are local, these races have become increasingly important for national politics, and will set the stage for the 2022 general elections.</p> <ul><li>It doesn&#8217;t mean the 2020 election will be a prediction of what will happen in 2022. In politics (especially in Brazilian politics), two years has proven to be a long time.</li></ul> <p><strong>How the election board is set.</strong> The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) has the strongest foothold in major centers, with controlling 30 of Brazil&#8217;s 96 biggest cities. The party rose in the local elections thanks to a growing anti-leftist sentiment among voters in 2016 —&nbsp;until Jair Bolsonaro emerged, the PSDB was the major conservative force in Brazil.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>On the left, meanwhile, the Workers&#8217; Party does not govern a single municipality among the top 96, it is stronger in smaller, poorer cities.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3742806" data-url="" aria-label=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Bolsonaro.</strong> At least publicly, President Jair Bolsonaro says he will refrain himself from taking part in municipal races. However, his aides confirmed to Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares that the president will use his <a href="">newfound popularity</a> to influence the outcome of elections in São Paulo (which has the biggest budget in the country), Rio de Janeiro (his electoral home), as well as other major urban centers, such as Porto Alegre (1 million voters) and Belo Horizonte (1.9 million).</p> <ul><li>The president, however, &#8220;will only enter disputes he knows he can win,&#8221; said an adviser. &#8220;That&#8217;s why his plan is to wait until the runoff stage to make endorsements. That way, he can pick whoever has the best chances of winning.&#8221;</li><li>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s main goal is to use the election to weaken his political nemeses: São Paulo Governor João Doria, former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta — and, of course, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Workers&#8217; Party.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Left.</strong> The Workers&#8217; Party has a lot at stake going into the elections. Since the 2014 election, the biggest party of the Brazilian left has lost support in all regions except for the Northeast. &#8220;We have hit rock bottom,&#8221; former Justice Minister Tarso Genro, one of the most independent voices within the party, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. &#8220;The Workers&#8217; Party faced its darkest hours during the peak of Operation Car Wash. But it has proven it is a durable and politically strong institution that can lead an effort to unite the left.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>There is some unity forming on the left, but it hasn&#8217;t included the Workers&#8217; Party so far. The Democratic Labor Party (PDT) and the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) have forged alliances in 45 big and medium-sized cities (including eight state capitals). It could be a dress rehearsal for a national alliance in 2022 —&nbsp;which could weaken a Workers&#8217; Party-led presidential ticket.</li><li>Moreover, the party is poorly positioned in São Paulo — with even far-left candidate Guilherme Boulos, from the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) outpolling the party&#8217;s nominee, Jilmar Tatto.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The Pantanal drama</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="580" src="" alt="pantanal fires deforestation" class="wp-image-49599" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 2048w, 610w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Mayke Toscano/Secom/MT</figcaption></figure> <p>The federal government has declared a state of emergency in the state of Mato Grosso, as wildfires continue to devastate the Pantanal biome. The government of neighboring state Mato Grosso do Sul has also declared a state of emergency. Until Sunday, 14,500 fires were recorded in the region this year — destroying 17 percent of the entire biome. An area bigger than the entire territory of Israel has been damaged in 2020 alone.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The Pantanal is the largest wetland region in the world, home to over 2,000 registered plant species and over 1,000 animal species —&nbsp;some of which only exist there.</p> <ul><li>The region also has one of South America&#8217;s main basins. &#8220;The region has an enormous capacity to absorb carbon‚ which makes it even more important in the context of climate change,&#8221; says Geraldo Damasceno Jr., a professor at the Biology Institute at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul.</li></ul> <p><strong>Causes.</strong> Besides rampant deforestation, the region has suffered from one of the worst droughts on record. Water levels in June — the peak of the wet season —&nbsp;were the lowest in 47 years.</p> <p><strong>Tourism.</strong> The fires will also affect the tourism industry — already ravaged by the pandemic. And tourism in the Pantanal has not only economic importance, but also has been a means to preserve wildlife. One such example is the Encontro das Águas State Park, a reservation where jaguars are protected. Around 62 percent of the park has already burnt down.</p> <p><strong>Budget.</strong> Despite the spike in deforestation rates, the Environment Ministry has reduced the funds earmarked for protection agencies.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="pantanal" class="wp-image-49601" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 2048w, 610w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Lucas Ninno/TBR</figcaption></figure> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>No time for reforms in 2020</h2> <p>Government leaders in Congress advertised the idea that it is possible to approve major pro-market reforms in 2020. But history says otherwise. According to a <a href="">study</a> by think tank Metapolítica, the median time frame for lawmakers to pass constitutional amendments is no less than 246 days. It takes even longer during election years such as 2020: 327 days.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Just like last year, many of the projections about how amendments will progress in Congress seem to be the product of wishful thinking rather than actual analysis.</p> <p><strong>Why is it so hard?</strong> Constitutional amendments require 60-percent majorities and must undergo two rounds of voting in both congressional chambers. It takes a lot of negotiating in a system as fragmented as Brazil&#8217;s. And negotiation hasn&#8217;t exactly been the forte of this administration.</p> <ul><li>That being said, the 2019 pension reform passed quickly, in relative terms. But it was much more consensual among political elites than a tax reform — which will put many conflicting interests against one another —&nbsp;or an overhaul of civil service — which will enrage one of the strongest lobbies in Brasília.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/3742629" data-url="" aria-label=""><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Interim no more. </strong>For the past four months, Army General Eduardo Pazuello has been Brazil&#8217;s Interim Health Minister —&nbsp;but on Wednesday he will finally have the interim tag removed from his job title. His tenure has been heavily criticized by experts, who have denounced his poor management of the ministry&#8217;s funds. He also faces criticism for signing off on chloroquine purchases by the administration — an <a href="">antimalarial drug touted by President Jair Bolsonaro</a> as a &#8220;possible cure&#8221; for Covid-19, but with absolutely no proven benefits.</li><li><strong>Covid-19. </strong>The coronavirus has so far killed 132,000 Brazilians. A study by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) argues that the pandemic — the single deadliest event in the country&#8217;s history —&nbsp;has lowered Brazilian males&#8217; life expectancy from 72.5 to 71.5 years. Men account for almost two-thirds of Covid-19 casualties in Brazil. Economist Ana Amélia Camarano, who conducted the study, says the impact wasn&#8217;t bigger because 75 percent of those who have died were aged 60 or older.</li><li><strong>Vaccine.</strong> Phase-3 trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will double the number of Brazilian volunteers to 10,000. &#8220;With more volunteers, we increase the chances of proving the efficiency of the vaccine sooner,&#8221; said Sue Ann Costa Clements, who coordinates the trials in Brazil. The study had been suspended last week, after a UK patient showed adverse reactions to the vaccine, but resumed on Monday.</li><li><strong>Car Wash.</strong> Prosecutors presented new money-laundering charges against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He is accused of accepting bribes from the Odebrecht construction group in exchange for hefty government contracts. Lula has accused Operation Car Wash of conducting a witch hunt against him, and said the probe uses &#8220;illegal methods&#8221; to reach political goals.</li><li><strong>Rio de Janeiro.</strong> The Federal Prosecution Office charged Wilson Witzel, the <a href="">suspended Rio Governor</a>, his wife Helena, and ten others for criminal association. The group allegedly <a href="">embezzled funds originally earmarked for the anti-coronavirus fight</a> in the state. Mr. Witzel denies any wrongdoing and said the charges are a political stunt. Next week, state lawmakers vote on whether to continue with impeachment proceedings against the suspended governor.

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