Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Sunday, October 7th was definitely a day of surprises for everyone in Brazil, and specifically for the city and state of Rio de Janeiro. The surprises are the result of democratic elections, where voters upended the presumptions and predictions of pundits, pollsters and protesters.
We’ll start with the presidential election. Rio de Janeiro is usually thought of as an ultra-tolerant, “liberal” city, where protests for individual rights are common. Indeed, shortly before election day, in an “#elenão” (“anyone but him”) demonstration, 200,000 people protested against Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate.
But on election day — surprise! Bolsonaro won 58.29 percent of the valid votes in the city of Rio, and 59.79 percent of the votes in the state of Rio.
During the entire campaign for governor, the media focused only on former two-term Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, comparing his support to that of former football star Romário and former governor Garotinho. Paes always appeared as front-runner, despite corruption accusations recently made by a Lava-Jato plea bargainer.
But on election day — surprise! Paes won less than twenty percent of the valid votes, whereas a political neophyte, former judge Wilson Witsel, won 41 percent of those votes.
In the elections for Senator, most of the polls showed former mayor Cesar Maia as the second most popular candidate, behind Bolsonaro’s son Flávio, followed by current senator Lindbergh and leftist Chico Alencar. As two seats were available, Maia seemed a sure thing.
But on election day — surprise! An 81-year old perennial back-bencher called Arolde de Oliveira outpolled Maia and became Rio’s second senator along with young Bolsonaro.
How did Witsel and Oliveira do it? In the waning days of the campaign, they hitched their wagons to the rising Bolsonaro stars, campaigning with Flávio and openly supporting his father Jair.
During the course of the year, many punsters (including the Curmudgeon) wondered how Jair Bolsonaro would be able to govern, as his political party (PSL) had no senators, only one federal deputy and few state deputies.
But on election day — surprise! PSL picked up an additional 51 seats in the federal chamber of deputies (ten percent of the total), becoming the second-largest party nationally. In the state of Rio, PSL did even better: its candidates won over 22 percent of the votes for federal deputy and almost sixteen percent of the votes for state deputy.
Many punsters (again, including the Curmudgeon) had predicted that the new campaign finance law would permit well-established candidates and their family “heirs”, particularly those running for re-election, to win easily, thus reducing the turnover in federal and state legislatures.
But on election day — surprise! Being an incumbent was more of a liability than an asset. Both of Rio’s senators lost. The “heirs” of disgraced Rio politicians Eduardo Cunha, Roberto Jefferson, Sergio Cabral and Jorge Picciani could not get elected; neither could the son of Rio’s Mayor Crivella.
Nationally, only eight of 24 senators who ran for re-election were able to win. The federal chamber of deputies will have almost sixty percent turnover, the most in twenty years, as scores of incumbents lost.
In short, Brazilian voters overwhelmingly rejected the “same old, same old” politicians and “threw the rascals out”. That is a triumph for democracy, which the Curmudgeon applauds.