Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANERIO, BRAZIL – Because the Olympics and Paralympics have dominated news from Rio de Janeiro, It may have escaped the attention of those readers of The Rio Times who don’t live here, but Brazil will have municipal elections this Sunday, October 2nd. These are more important than many think.
Under the 1988 Federal Constitution, municipalities are autonomous governmental entities, with elected mayors (“prefeitos”) and city councilmen (“vereadores”). There are over 5,500 municipalities scattered around the 26 States of Brazil, including 2,450 with populations under 10,000 inhabitants; others measure in the millions (think São Paulo); more than 55 percent of all Brazilians live in the 304 municipalities with populations over 100,000.
Brazil’s Federal Constitution calls for a second round of elections for mayor in the 92 cities with 200,000 or more enrolled voters when the leading candidate does not receive a majority plus one of the valid votes. The runoff election is between the two top vote getters and will be held on Sunday October 30th.
In the legislative area, the Federal Constitution prescribes the maximum number of councilmen a municipality can have, ranging from nine, for municipalities with populations under 15,000, up to fifty-five, for those with populations over eight million (only São Paulo). Assuming a median of only twenty councilmen per municipality, that’s over 110,000 elected politicians who will keep their legislative seats for four years.
Moreover, any political party can nominate candidates up to 150 percent of the total number of council seats. Given that Brazil has well over thirty registered political parties, it is a safe bet that at least 500,000 people will be seeking election, less than one week from today.
Importantly, those local candidates will eventually serve as the ward heelers and feet-on-the-ground political operatives of the candidates for state and federal legislative office in 2018. Brazil has no separate congressional districts as do the US and the UK, because legislative members are elected on a state-wide basis, based on the votes cast for their political party.
In short, every political party needs as many local supporters as it can muster, all around the state. The municipal elections give local party faithful the opportunity to gain power, which gives them the opportunity to use that power to benefit local residents for two years before the state and federal elections.
Streets will get paved, electric light, water and sewage installed, schools and health centers started up, primarily in those wards where ruling council members have the most votes—it’s a reward to voters who supported them, always accompanied by reminders of the electoral debt they will owe in 2018.
Similarly, those municipalities which support the successful candidates for governor and state representatives will receive the lion’s share of the state development projects.
The support of mayors and city councilmembers will be essential for everyone who seeks to become one of 513 federal deputies, as well as the thousands of candidates for state deputies. Sunday’s elections will go a long way to determining who is elected in 2018.
The Curmudgeon knows what all local politicians know; here, as elsewhere, one hand washes the other.