Brazilian elections: why 2020 wasn’t like 2018

and . Nov 17, 2020
elections Supreme Court Justices Edson Fachin (left) and Luís Roberto Barroso presided over the 2018 elections. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr Supreme Court Justices Edson Fachin (left) and Luís Roberto Barroso presided over the 2018 elections. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

In 2018, a far-right wave swept over Brazilian politics — spearheaded by the landslide win of Jair Bolsonaro in the presidency. It was an election of extremes, and anti-politics. Many states elected newcomers as governors and Congress saw its highest renewal rate in two decades. However, just as the massive Operation Car Wash anti-corruption probe did not fundamentally change how parties finance their campaigns — with scandals continuing to sprout across the country — Mr. Bolsonaro’s triumph was not a deadly blow to the political establishment.

Center-right parties regained their protagonism in municipal elections, either by re-electing mayors or snatching new municipalities.

These parties, part of an amalgam of rent-seeking groups with little ideological coherence often referred to as the &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; managed major wins in all Brazilian regions.</p> <p>Meanwhile, pickings were slim for the extreme-right candidates elected on President Bolsonaro&#8217;s coattails in 2018. The Social Liberal Party — abandoned by Mr. Bolsonaro due to infighting — were the election&#8217;s biggest losers, spending a vast amount of public money on campaigning and getting very little in return.</p> <h2>The big winners of the 2020 elections</h2> <p>The happiest political group after Sunday&#8217;s results was clearly the Democratas party, which is increasingly becoming a powerful force on Brazil&#8217;s right.</p> <p>Originally founded as the Liberal Front Party in 1985, Democratas began life as a result of a split of the right-wing Social Democracy Party, itself a successor to the political wing of Brazil&#8217;s military dictatorship. The party almost disappeared during the years of the center-left Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government, having been relegated to an insignificant opposition party with little representation.</p> <p>They returned to prominence during the political crisis leading up to President Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment in 2016, gaining a massive boost with Democratas member Rodrigo Maia winning the all-important House Speaker job — which he still holds today.</p> <p>On Sunday, Democratas elected a total of 459 mayors, three of them in state capitals. This was a 72 percent increase on their result in 2016, and more good news could be coming for the party.</p> <p>Besides winning in the cities of Curitiba, Florianópolis, and Salvador, Eduardo Paes is polling high in Rio de Janeiro and will face incumbent Marcelo Crivella in a runoff election. In the northern city of Macapá, Josiel Alcolumbre — brother of Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, also of Democratas — is hopeful of winning the delayed mayor&#8217;s election, after state-wide power cuts saw the vote postponed.</p> <p>&#8220;We couldn&#8217;t have asked for better results. Now, we are preparing ourselves for 2022,&#8221; Salvador Mayor Antonio Carlos Magalhães Neto, one of the party&#8217;s main leaders, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <h2>The big losers</h2> <p>When Jair Bolsonaro joined the Social Liberal Party in 2018, it was a tiny right-wing outfit with marginal support. After the election, it had not only elected a president, but also three state governors, four senators, 52 members of the lower house, and 76 state lawmakers.</p> <p>Now, just two years on, the Social Liberal Party did not manage to elect a single mayor in any of Brazil&#8217;s state capitals. Out of over 5,000 municipalities, the party only won 24.</p> <p>And this was not for lack of means. Thanks to the party&#8217;s stunning results in 2018, the Social Liberal Party boasted the second largest share of Brazil&#8217;s public electoral fund, receiving BRL 199.4 million (USD 36.82 million) to finance its campaigns.</p> <p>The best example of this quick fall from grace came in São Paulo, where, in 2018, Joice Hasselmann became the federal lawmaker elected with the most votes in the history of the state, with 1 million people backing her at the polls — almost 300,000 in the state capital alone.</p> <p>This year, however, Ms. Hasselmann ran for mayor of São Paulo. Hoping to ride the wave of her past success, she finished in seventh place, winning just 1.84 percent of the vote.</p> <h2>The government&#8217;s reaction</h2> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="">kingmaking credentials</a> had been put under scrutiny in the weeks leading up to the municipal elections. Polls showed that the candidates he endorsed were flailing in key constituencies, and that a large part of the electorate would actively reject anyone presented as a Bolsonarist option. Indeed, this trend was borne out in the final results. Of the 13 mayoral candidates openly supported by Mr. Bolsonaro, only two were victorious — neither of them coming in major cities. A similar trend was seen in city council elections: at least 33 of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s 45 candidates failed to win a seat.</p> <p>However, while the government was concerned by Sunday&#8217;s results, they have attempted to play down any sense of defeat in public statements. Vice President Hamilton Mourão affirmed that the election outcome had nothing to do with Mr. Bolsonaro &#8220;because he did not get fully involved&#8221; in the campaign.</p> <p>&#8220;He supported some candidates, but very few. The president does not have a political party. Without a party structure it is difficult to take part in elections,&#8221; said Mr. Mourão.</p> <p>But even the Bolsonaro name failed to bring results. As we showed on Sunday morning, a number of candidates around the country <a href="">used the word &#8220;Bolsonaro&#8221; </a>on their ballot names in an attempt to capitalize on brand recognition. Only one out of 78 &#8220;Bolsonaros&#8221; won election on the weekend: the president&#8217;s son Carlos Bolsonaro, who was re-elected city councilor for Rio de Janeiro, with 33 percent fewer votes than in 2016.

Read the full story NOW!

Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at