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How the coronavirus affected Brazil’s 2020 election

. Nov 14, 2020
How the coronavirus affected Brazil's 2020 election Workers' Party candidate Jilmar Tatto of São Paulo during a campaign rally. Photo: Filipe Araujo/FP

Upon registering a candidacy for public office, every Brazilian politician must submit their government manifesto to electoral authorities. The requirement is a way to make their campaign promises available to voters and help people make educated choices at polling stations, armed with the knowledge of where candidates stand on particular issues. The 2020 municipal election comes amid the worst health crisis in the last century — and just before a possible second coronavirus wave. We at The Brazilian Report examined major candidates’ manifestos in detail, thinking the coronavirus would have heavily influenced their proposals.

Well, we were wrong.

Most candidates in municipal races included only

unspecified platitudes when talking about the challenges imposed by the pandemic — whether related to the economy, healthcare, or urban mobility.</p> <p>When it comes to challengers, most of their <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/10/21/podcast-electoral-calculations-around-covid-19-vaccine/">pandemic pledges</a> consist purely of criticism of incumbents, without any concrete proposals of their own. At the same time, those running for re-election have used their manifestos to gloat about their own achievements during the coronavirus crisis, even including actions taken by state administrations and the federal government.</p> <h2>2020 election: economy comes first</h2> <p>At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, governments around the world warned that their response would have to take into account the delicate balance between mitigating the health crisis, yet still <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/10/23/brazil-unemployment-hits-new-records-but-worse-is-yet-to-come/">preserving local economies</a>. Judging by the manifestos of leading candidates in Brazil&#8217;s major cities, the latter is taking precedent.</p> <p>Among the main competitors in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife, and Porto Alegre, proposals to boost employment and assist companies large and small are the most prevalent.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-1024x683.jpg" alt="coronavirus são paulo" class="wp-image-52686" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-1024x683.jpg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-1536x1024.jpg 1536w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k-600x400.jpg 600w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50596596388_fa4351cf46_k.jpg 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Incumbent Bruno Covas, the head-and-shoulders favorite in São Paulo. Photo: Patrícia Cruz/FP</figcaption></figure> <p>In the country&#8217;s largest city São Paulo, Guilherme Boulos and Márcio França — both vying for a spot in a second-round runoff against incumbent Bruno Covas — mention proposals to aid the recovery of struggling companies and open credit lines for small businesses and merchants. Mr. França quotes a promise to offer BRL 3,000 (USD 543) interest-free loans to micro entrepreneurs and <a href="https://divulgacandcontas.tse.jus.br/candidaturas/oficial/2020/SP/71072/426/candidatos/537551/5_1600890440425.pdf">credit lines</a> of up to BRL 50,000 to small businesses. However, his manifesto does not outline how these programs will be funded.</p> <p>Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s incumbent <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/09/18/2020-election-stake-sao-paulo-rio-de-janeiro/">Mayor Marcelo Crivella</a> promises the creation of the city&#8217;s own development bank — in partnership with national development bank BNDES — to offer micro financing to small business owners.</p> <h2>Incumbents try to cash in</h2> <p>Of Brazil&#8217;s five largest state capitals, two incumbent mayors seem set to win re-election. In São Paulo, Bruno Covas has a comfortable lead and is projected to beat all potential challengers in a run-off election. Meanwhile, Belo Horizonte Mayor Alexandre Kalil is poised for a landslide first-round win, currently polling at 63 percent.</p> <p>For both mayors, their approach in government manifestos has been to list their own achievements during the Covid-19 pandemic as platforms to lead them to victory. In Mr. Covas&#8217; case, his manifesto consists largely of a personal description of his experience leading São Paulo through the <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/06/16/after-reopening-sao-paulo-sees-record-number-of-deaths/">health crisis</a>.</p> <p>While highlighting the actions of his government, he affirms that city hall will &#8220;be even more present in the aid and support of families enduring difficulties due to the pandemic and economic crisis,&#8221; proposing a municipal basic income program that would pay poorer families between BRL 140 and 200 per month.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Alexandre Kalil is truly reaping the benefits of his administration&#8217;s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Confronting the hands-off measures of state governor Romeu Zema, Mr. Kalil implanted policies seen as effective by the local community, such as the widespread use of masks and fines for those not using them in public.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Bolsonaro&#8217;s candidates favor the ostrich approach</h2> <p>Despite initially promising to stay out of municipal elections — fearing that he may end up backing the wrong horse in key races and losing political capital — President Jair Bolsonaro has now dove head-first into local politics, selecting candidates left, right, and center.</p> <p>And while this support is unlikely to lead to success, these handpicked candidates are following the federal government&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/cartoons/2020/07/09/the-worlds-biggest-covid-19-denialist-contracts-coronavirus/">dismissive stance</a> toward the coronavirus pandemic.</p> <p>In São Paulo, federal lawmaker Celso Russomanno started the campaign as the frontrunner, before seeing his poll numbers plummet <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/11/07/despite-high-popularity-bolsonaro-is-no-kingmaker/">despite support from the president</a>. In his manifesto, there are only three mentions of the coronavirus pandemic in 45 pages of platforms and policies.</p> <p>At no point does his government program mention isolation measures, the expansion of hospital beds to treat Covid-19 patients, or any health issues related to the pandemic.</p> <p>In Belo Horizonte, Bolsonaro-backed candidate Bruno Engler is equally dismissive of the health crisis. He makes four mentions of the pandemic, but purely through economic terms, promising &#8220;integrated action of economic development&#8221; and plans to resume the &#8220;post-pandemic daily life.&#8221;</p> <p>Finally, in the northeastern city of Recife, candidate Delegado Patrícia Domingos makes absolutely no mention of the words &#8220;pandemic,&#8221; &#8220;coronavirus,&#8221; or &#8220;Covid-19&#8221; in her seven-page manifesto. Polling in fourth, she was endorsed by President Bolsonaro on Monday.

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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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