Municipal elections highlight challenges facing Brazil’s left-wing

. Nov 09, 2020
brazil left municipal elections coronavirus The sluggish candidacy of Jilmar Tatto in São Paulo is a testament to the Workers' Party's struggles. Photo: Filipe Araújo/FP

In the municipal elections of 2016, the Brazilian left suffered its most significant defeat since the turn of the century. The Workers’ Party — Brazil’s best-structured political group — was inevitably the face of the debacle, losing 60 percent of its mayoral offices, shrinking from being the country’s third-largest party in municipal terms to being the tenth, reverting to where it was before former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva initiated the party’s four-election winning streak, between 2002 and 2014.

This poor run of form continued in 2018. Besides losing the presidential election to Jair Bolsonaro — who won in all regions bar the poor Northeast — the Workers’ Party managed to elect only three state governors and four senators.

Within the left, an improved performance in 2020 is seen as mandatory to put the Workers’ Party

in a position to beat Jair Bolsonaro at the ballot boxes come the next presidential election in 2022, but the party remains riddled by myriad challenges.</p> <p>The biggest of these is the fact that the Workers&#8217; Party continues to be <a href="">centered around the figure</a> of former President Lula. While this helps ensure the support of the millions of Brazilians who approved of Lula&#8217;s eight years in office, it also alienates millions more.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3742806"><script src=""></script></div> <p>Indeed, the main issue with Lula&#8217;s personality revolves around the <a href="">guilty court verdicts</a> against him, which saw him spend over one year in jail for corruption and money laundering. In his push to reverse these charges and win back the presidency, Lula has used the party&#8217;s candidates as his personal flag-bearers. All of the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s contestants in the 2020 elections are specifically instructed to defend the former president in their campaigns, regardless of their constituents. Non-abiding candidates will be punished.</p> <p>The success of this strategy is largely conditional to the local population in question. In the major northeastern city of Recife, for instance, attaching her name to Lula&#8217;s may work for <a href="">mayoral candidate Marília Arraes</a> — herself the granddaughter of much-celebrated former Governor Miguel Arraes. Previously languishing in fourth place, Ms. Arraes is now polling in second, looking likely to win a place in a runoff vote.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in São Paulo, Workers&#8217; Party candidate <a href="">Jilmar Tatto</a> has been endorsed by the former president, yet days before the election he polls at just six percent.</p> <p>&#8220;There is a lack of proposals besides denouncing what the party sees as [Lula&#8217;s] political persecution,&#8221; says political analyst Cristiano Noronha, of consultancy firm Arko Advice. &#8220;Self-victimization hasn&#8217;t worked for the Workers&#8217; Party in the past — it is unlikely to work in the future.&#8221;</p> <h2>Smaller left-wing parties thrive in the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s absence</h2> <p>Only in two of Brazil&#8217;s 26 state capitals do left-wing candidates hold a comfortable lead in the polls. Neither ticket is headed by the Workers&#8217; Party.</p> <p>In the southern city of Porto Alegre, former vice presidential candidate Manuela D&#8217;Ávila — of the Communist Party of Brazil — is polling at <a href="">27 percent</a>, 13 points above her closest challenger. And in Belém, in Brazil&#8217;s North, Edmilson Rodrigues of the Socialism and Freedom Party is 23 points <a href="">ahead</a> of the competition, polling at 38 percent.</p> <p>The defining factor of these races is that in both cities, the Workers&#8217; Party chose not to run its own candidate. &#8220;The support of all [sectors of the left] is what will lead us to City Hall,&#8221; said Ms. D&#8217;Ávila, on <a href="">Facebook</a>.</p> <p>And the experts agree. Pollster Antonio Lavareda is one of many political scientists to say that unless the left unites itself around a broader project, it will continue adrift in the political scene. But the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s unwavering insistence to top all competitive left-leaning electoral tickets has alienated many of its longtime supporters.</p> <p>Recently, Lula and three-time presidential candidate Ciro Gomes made the press aware that they had met to discuss rapprochement. Though this would be a potentially game-changing alliance for the Brazilian left, the bad blood between the two men — as well as their stubborn personalities — is likely to get in the way.</p> <p>Perhaps next week, in the wake of municipal election results, could lead to change. If they face another political defeat, the Workers&#8217; Party and the rest of the left could finally be forced to find common ground.

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Débora Álvares

Débora Álvares has worked as a political reporter for newspapers Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo, Globo News, HuffPost, among others. She specializes in reporting on Brasilia, working behind-the-scenes coverage at the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government.

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