2020 the year for identity politics in Brazil

. Nov 18, 2020
diversity trans identity politics Duda Salabert received more votes than any of her competitors. Photo: Lucas Ávila/Div.

Two years after Brazil was swept by a conservative wave that propelled far-right former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency, Sunday’s municipal elections were marked by a significant increase in diversity across the board. While the average victorious mayoral candidate remains white married males, Brazil elected the largest number of women, LGBTQI+, black, and multiracial candidates in its history.

Among the marginalized groups that were most successful in Sunday’s vote, much attention has been given to transgender candidates, in what was the first municipal election in which competitors were allowed to register their preferred names on the ballot.

</p> <p>A total of 294 transgender candidates ran for election this year and 25 were elected to city council seats, over three times as many victorious bids in 2016.</p> <p>Also notable was the political plurality of this year&#8217;s transgender candidates. While traditionally belonging to left-wing parties that champion diversity with a more active voice, 2020 saw transgender bids appearing in more conservative groups, such as the right-wing Christian Democracy party.</p> <p>And not only were there more elected transgender city coucillors, some of them featured among the candidates with the most votes in their respective cities. For instance, in Belo Horizonte — Brazil&#8217;s sixth-largest city — school teacher Duda Salabert received more votes than any of her competitors. The same occurred with human rights activist Linda Brasil in Aracaju, the capital of Sergipe state, both representing the left-wing Socialism and Freedom Party.&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, Ms. Salabert says that her election is, first and foremost, &#8220;a victory for human rights, as Brazil is the country that kills the most transgender people.&#8221; In her view, residents of Belo Horizonte issued a response to the city&#8217;s conservative-leaning council. &#8220;Through the ballot boxes, the people showed their desire for a more qualified debate from a political perspective, to create more jobs, improve environmental issues, and above all improve education,&#8221; she says.</p> <h2>Collective candidacies and more women</h2> <p>Another interesting factor of this year&#8217;s election was the success of so-called &#8220;collective candidates,&#8221; a gray area in Brazilian law by which one individual is elected and shares the role with other people. In São Paulo, two such collectives won spots in the city council: the Bancada Feminista, and Quilombo Periférico.</p> <p>The Bancada Feminista (Feminist Caucus) is made up of five activist members, represented by history teacher Silvia Ferraro. Among its representatives are black rights activist Paula Nunes, militant vegan activist Natália Chaves, ecosocialist Dafne Sena, and Carolina Iara, a researcher on the employability of black and multiracial people living with HIV.</p> <p>Registrations of collective candidacies skyrocketed in 2020, going from 13 in 2016 to 257 this year. Besides the two examples in São Paulo, another pair of collective candidates were elected in the state capitals of Fortaleza and Florianópolis, both representing women&#8217;s rights.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4392972"><script src=""></script></div> <p>Indeed, the number of women elected in this year&#8217;s vote also increased. The total percentage of women candidates and elected mayors broke records, though still remains far below the percentage of women that make up the total population. Brazil is a majority female country, comprising 51.8 percent of the total inhabitants according to the most recent figures, but only 12.2 percent of mayors are women.</p> <p>Laws have been enacted to boost the representation of women in politics, such as a minimum quota of 30 percent of female candidacies, as well as a new rule that also demands 30 percent of campaign funds to go to women running for office.</p> <p>In many cases, however, unscrupulous parties have taken advantage of these affirmative action rules, launching women as &#8220;dummy candidates&#8221; in order to embezzle money from public electoral funds. In this year&#8217;s election, over 5,000 candidates ended the count without winning a single vote — two-thirds of them were women.&nbsp;</p> <h2>More wins for black candidates</h2> <p>Another marginalized — yet majority — group gained increased representation in the 2020 municipal elections. Out of every ten elected mayors in the first round of voting, three are black or multiracial — a slight increase from four years ago.</p> <p>For the first time in history, black and multiracial candidates outweighed the number of white candidates, better reflecting the demographic makeup of the country. According to census data, 56.2 percent of Brazilians are either black or multiracial.</p> <p>And there was one particularly symbolic victory among the slight increase of black elected officials in this year&#8217;s vote. In the Center-West city of Cavalcante, Vilmar Costa was elected mayor, making him the first <em>quilombola</em> mayor in the country&#8217;s history. Quilombolas are the descendants or living survivors of communities of escaped slaves (<a href=""><em>quilombos</em></a>) formed between the 16th century and 1888, when the slave trade was abolished in Brazil.&nbsp;</p> <p>Cavalcante is one of Brazil&#8217;s <a href="">biggest quilombola territories</a>, located in the Chapada dos Veadeiros national park and known for its natural wealth. In the municipality, quilombolas live in small and isolated rural communities, often without running water or basic sanitation. Many are illiterate and do not have the necessary documents to vote, making Mr. Costa&#8217;s victory all the more surprising.</p> <p>Residents of quilombos are largely poor and continue to follow the traditions and lifestyles of their inhabitants. Many of them have never left their community and do not intend to. Vilmar Costa, however, is an exception. With a postgraduate degree in natural sciences and mathematics, he became a leader of his local community.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;The city is 189 years old and for the first time it will have a quilombola mayor. My goal is unity, to have a collaborative and participative government. We will break barriers, not only for the [quilombolas], but for everyone,&#8221; he said.

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Renato Alves

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

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