Can Brazil’s elections go ahead in 2020?

. Mar 30, 2020
brazil election 2020

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This week, we talk about how the 2020 municipal election may be in jeopardy. And how Jair Bolsonaro became the international face of Covid-19 denialism.

Will Brazil be able to hold municipal elections in 2020?

On October 4,

Brazilians from all of the country&#8217;s 5,570 municipalities are expected to head to the polls and elect new mayors and city councilors. But the coronavirus has drastically upended the 2020 elections —&nbsp;and no one at this time can tell for sure how, and if, this vote will be able to take place.</p> <p><strong>Timetable.</strong> No matter how the outbreak unfolds, the electoral calendar has already been disrupted. Hundreds of electoral courts have been unable to initiate tests on electronic ballot boxes to check for issues with batteries, printing, or the keypad.</p> <ul><li>Party conventions are scheduled to happen between July 20 and August 5. Will people feel safe to join an event in what is usually a crowded auditorium? Plus, how are candidates expected to carry out their traditional campaigns —&nbsp;which involve <em>a lot</em> of meeting and greeting?</li></ul> <p><strong>Election day.</strong> That&#8217;s not even to mention the election itself. By design, Brazil&#8217;s electoral system puts lots of people in the same place, in line, for several minutes (maybe hours). And then they will have to touch a voting machine hundreds of others have already touched the same day.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> In the U.S., the electoral system offers solutions such as postal and early voting. In Brazil, none of that exists. Leaving us with the traditional in-person system, which has now become a health risk.</p> <p><strong>Proposal.</strong> Last week, the Health Ministry floated the possibility of extending the terms of incumbent mayors until 2022, and then holding municipal elections at the same time as national races. In areas where incumbents are highly unpopular, though, the move could spark tension.</p> <p><strong>The problems.</strong> Changing anything about an election is, for obvious reasons, extremely difficult. It would require amending the constitution, which in turn entails a 60-percent majority in two-round votes in each congressional chamber. Plus, as it is, Brazil&#8217;s electoral code says changes can only be applied to an election if approved at least one year prior to polling day.</p> <ul><li>&#8220;Brazil faces two choices, neither appealing,&#8221; Leandro Mello Frota, an expert in public law, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. &#8220;Either we go ahead with a convoluted election —&nbsp;risking the health of voters and the integrity of the process, or we try to postpone it. Which entails its own numerous issues. Right now, no one can tell for sure what will happen.&#8221;</li><li>Moreover, Congress is involved with passing legislation to help the country weather the Covid-19 crisis. After that, it will take enormous effort to put the economy back on its feet. When would lawmakers find the time to discuss changes to the electoral system —&nbsp;which are not exactly consensual?&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Clashes.</strong> As Brazil grew more polarized, local races became extensions of national races, being a sort of midterm election in which voters decide to either elect mayors and city councilors that promise alignment or opposition with the federal government. As Jair Bolsonaro loses support due to the coronavirus (more below), most of his opponents see a key opportunity to capitalize —&nbsp;and don&#8217;t want to postpone Election Day.</p> <ul><li>One exception is the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). &#8220;I&#8217;m not in favor of extending anyone&#8217;s terms, but we could push Election Day to somewhere closer to inauguration day (January 1),&#8221; said Congressman Julio Delgado.</li></ul> <p><strong>What justices say. </strong>Both the current and the future presiding justice of the Superior Electoral Court — Rosa Weber and Luís Roberto Barroso, respectively — have argued in favor of keeping the current calendar. They hope the outbreak will be contained by the time Brazilians need to cast their votes, citing China as an example of a country that flattened its Covid-19 curve after five months. However, China&#8217;s lockdown and quarantine measures were extremely heavy-handed and well-enforced, something Brazil is unable to do.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The face of denialism</h2> <p>Over the weekend, U.S. President Donald Trump decided to extend nationwide social-distancing guidelines until April. &#8220;Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,&#8221; he said. &#8220;The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end.&#8221; This U-turn from Mr. Trump — who recently talked about reopening the U.S. by Easter — left Jair Bolsonaro as the only G20 leader to deny the gravity of the Covid-19 outbreak.</p> <ul><li>On Sunday, the Brazilian president said: &#8220;I&#8217;m not sure I will, but I&#8217;m thinking of signing a decree [on Monday]: every legal profession —&nbsp;or those highly informal and necessary for families&#8217; livelihood (&#8230;) will be able to work.&#8221;</li><li>The president said that after visiting street markets and commerce in lower-income areas near Brasília, repeating his slogan that &#8220;Brazilians want to work.&#8221; He also talked about chloroquine-based medicines as a possible cure to Covid-19, though the efficacy of the drug is still unproven.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> If Mr. Bolsonaro is wrong, his position could cost tens of thousands of lives in Brazil.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3143389"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><strong>Influence.</strong> Despite rising unpopularity (more below), Mr. Bolsonaro remains able to influence several sectors of the population. On Sunday, the streets of several Brazilian cities saw motorcades in protest of quarantines and the closure of businesses.</p> <p><strong>Fake news.</strong> The president has become a major agent of misinformation. According to fact-checking agency <em>Aos Fatos</em>, he has made 70 false or distorted statements about Covid-19 over the past 30 days.</p> <ul><li>Twitter deleted posts of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s interactions with voters on Sunday, as they violated the website&#8217;s rules. The social media company has banned posts that spread misleading information around Covid-19 — which has affected some of the president&#8217;s main supporters.</li></ul> <p><strong>Pressure.</strong> The OECD — the organization the Bolsonaro administration hopes to help Brazil join — issued a document asking the president to &#8220;take the lead&#8221; in the fight against Covid-19 and adopt &#8220;appropriate confinement measures.&#8221; Newspaper <em>Valor</em> had <a href="">access</a> to the letter. The OECD alerted to the fact that, if Brazil doesn&#8217;t flatten the curve of the outbreak, its healthcare system could quickly collapse.</p> <p><strong>By the numbers.</strong> According to the Health Ministry, Brazil has 4,256 confirmed Covid-19 infections and 136 deaths.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>Analysts see payment system operators as an intelligent investment right now, as these companies can help the government distribute aid to small and medium-sized businesses —&nbsp;sectors set to suffer the most from this crisis. BTG Pactual&#8217;s favorite pick is Stone, thanks to its strong cash flow and intentions to use a BRL 130-million fund for microlending to customers. Bradesco BBI, however, prefers Cielo, as 70 percent of its payments come from big companies, which are more prepared to weather the crisis. Cielo also has a more diversified portfolio.</p> <p style="text-align:center"><strong><em>Natália Scalzaretto</em></strong></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilians don&#8217;t like how the government is handling the crisis</h2> <p>Despite what President Jair Bolsonaro says, most Brazilians support restrictive measures such as quarantines in the fight against Covid-19. Opinion polls show that the president&#8217;s <a href="">concerns with the economy over people&#8217;s lives</a> — to the point of saying that &#8220;we&#8217;re all going to die eventually&#8221; — have rubbed voters up the wrong way. We show two different polls: one showing how his support base has eroded since December, and the other demonstrating how Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s actions are less popular than those of state governors and the Health Ministry.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1731944"><script src=""></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/1680193"><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>Aid.</strong> On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved the payment of an <a href="">emergency salary of BRL 600</a> (USD 120) for informal workers and disabled people. This emergency aid is the first broad economic measure to advance since the coronavirus crisis began and could help over 60 million people. The Senate is expected to pass the bill later on Monday.</li><li><strong>Indicators.</strong> On Monday, the latest confidence levels among services companies will be released — and the Central Bank publishes its Focus Report, a weekly survey with top-rated investment firms with their forecasts for the economy. On Tuesday, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics releases <a href="">labor market</a> figures for February (due to the pandemic, data was collected over the phone instead of in-person). On Wednesday, the auto industry&#8217;s numbers for March are out.</li><li><strong>Political crisis.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro has <a href="">clashed with state governors</a>, who have implemented restrictive measures to contain the Covid-19 spread. Against widespread isolation, Mr. Bolsonaro claims the governors will be to blame if the economy tanks and unemployment rises. This lack of coordination may severely hamper Brazil&#8217;s anti-Covid-19 efforts, as the country&#8217;s decentralized political system allows states and the federal government only so much independence without mutual help.</li><li><strong>Military.</strong> The army —&nbsp;a key supporter of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s —&nbsp;has begun to distance itself from the president. Army Commander Edson Leal Pujol published a video arguing in favor of self-isolation and calling Covid-19 “the most important mission of our generation.” Meanwhile, former four-star general and Vice President Hamilton Mourão is publicly adopting a different approach from Mr. Bolsonaro&nbsp;—&nbsp;telling reporters that the government&#8217;s only position on the crisis is &#8220;isolation and social distancing,&#8221; adding that the president &#8220;might have expressed himself badly.&#8221; As some opposition parties <a href="">begin negotiating possible impeachment</a>, how the army handles itself will be pivotal in the crisis moving forward.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Budget.</strong> Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes has cleared the federal government — and all states that have declared a state of calamity —&nbsp;from the controls imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Law. The move is important, as not meeting the guidelines of this law is an impeachable offense, and public officials will be required to spend way over their budget in order to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, both from a healthcare perspective and an economic one.</li><li><strong>Cold war.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro and his Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, have engaged in public backslapping. And yet, each supports completely different ways to fight the Covid-19 crisis. Mr. Mandetta, a physician, defends isolation measures and says he will not endorse positions without a scientific basis. Mr. Bolsonaro, however, argues that the economy must not stop, and that only the elderly and those in high-risk groups must be isolated. During the weekend, less than 24 hours after the minister defended restrictive measures, the president visited street markets and said: &#8220;Brazilians want to work.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Down tools.</strong> Foreign companies in Brazil are starting to reduce production as a measure to contain the coronavirus spread. Last Tuesday, agricultural machine manufacturer John Deere shut down some of its plants — while reducing work hours in others. Meanwhile, tech producer Samsung has suspended activities in one of its factories for at least five days. Electronic manufacturers have an additional problem: the slowdown of the Chinese economy in recent weeks has <a href="">created a shortage of inputs</a>.

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