Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Throw the rascals out!” This cry has been heard for years in U.S. politics, meaning that if elected officials or parties have proven themselves corrupt rascals, the solution is to vote them out of office. That may have been the case in the 2012 Brazilian municipal elections, but the Curmudgeon asks “have the voters thrown the rascals in?”
The mayoralty elections held in the largest 85 Brazilian cities (where more than 70 million people live) did produce two examples of throwing the rascals out, in comparison to 2008. In 2008, 48 mayors stood for re-election, and a whopping 41 were successful—only 7 rascals thrown out. But this year, although 39 mayors stood for re-election, only 22 won, whereas 17 rascals lost.
In 2008, 53 candidates of governing party coalitions won their races, versus only 32 opposition candidates. But this year, 50 opposition party candidates won, versus only 35 governing party candidates. This year, the opposition’s cry of “throw the rascals out!” clearly succeeded.
But, sadly, this year’s elections produced even more examples of “rascals out, rascals in.” For starters, no fewer than sixteen separate political parties had successful candidates for mayor. This is a huge increase from 2008, when “only” 11 parties were successful.
The problem is that many of these parties are simply “for hire”, meaning they have rented themselves out to major parties to help build a coalition. “Rent-a-party” mayors now govern 516 Brazilian counties, more than nine percent of the total number. Rascals out, rascals in?
In the 26 state capitals, eleven parties were successful as against “only” nine four years ago. Among these eleven, two elected their first ever mayors: PSOL, the leftist offshoot of PT, and PSD, the party founded only two years ago by then São Paulo Mayor Kassab (but see below). The party with the largest number of capital city mayors starting 2013 will be PSB, a party which had been for hire until a very few years ago. Rascals out, rascals in?
In politics, one man’s rascal is often another man’s stalwart. Let us consider São Paulo, which exemplifies several of these contradictions. Its outgoing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, had been elected by PSDB, but was so unpopular by 2010 that many wanted him out.
He left PSDB and founded his own party, called PSD, which proceeded to win an astonishing 500 mayoralties throughout Brazil this year. Although he and his party were rascals to the São Paulo voters, they were new blood for millions of voters elsewhere. Rascals out, rascals in?
José Serra of PSDB, which had governed São Paulo for eight years, received the largest number of votes in the first round of elections, but was then trounced in the second round by Fernando Haddad, the PT candidate, largely because of Kassab’s unpopularity. But as everyone in Brazil knows, PT is the party whose “mensalão” rascals have recently been convicted of corruption and racketeering by the STF. Rascals out, rascals in?
The Curmudgeon’s go-to guru since 1974, Zardoz (“I have seen the future and it doesn’t work”), suspects more rascals have been thrown in than out. The Curmudgeon hopes he’s wrong.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)