Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Continuing our curmudgeonly concentration on the State of Rio de Janeiro, we look at its legislative assembly (ALERJ), where the October 7th election decidedly created surprises, the greatest being the success of PSL, aka the Bolsonaro party.
Starting next year, PSL’s “Bolshies” will occupy thirteen of the seventy seats in ALERJ, making it the largest party represented, whereas in 2014 it elected only two candidates. The gain came at the cost of the four major parties (MDB, PSD, PR and PT) that had elected 36 out of the seventy seats in 2014, but will now have only twelve seats.
Coincidentally, 36 out of seventy is the number of first-timers in the new ALERJ, as a substantial number of prominent former members did not achieve re-election, largely because of corruption scandals involving the prior leadership.
Another surprise was that this year 28 different parties won at least one seat, whereas in 2014 only 22 parties elected deputies. However, because eight of the 28 did not meet the so-called “performance clause” requirement that entitles parties to campaign financing and free air time in future elections, most deputies from under-performing parties will migrate to more successful parties.
In the federal Chamber of Deputies, a welcome surprise was that the 2015 law imposing a true barrier clause came into play, and denied seats to candidates with very few votes. Some years ago, a minnow party was entitled to seven seats out of 513 because one of its candidates (Tiririca the clown) won over a million votes in São Paulo; however, the party had only fielded six candidates, none of whom could more than 10,000 votes; all six were seated, even though there were dozens of candidates from other parties who had many more votes.
The 2015 law eliminated this absurdity by requiring any party’s candidates to obtain at least ten percent of the “electoral quotient” (don’t ask!) in order to be seated. This year, under the “Tiririca” rules, seven more PSL Bolshies, each having fewer than 25,000 votes, would have been seated. But as they did not meet the quotient, candidates from other parties — all of whom won more than 56,000 votes — wound up being seated.
Perhaps unsurprising was the abysmal showing of candidates who were identified with the highly unpopular current and prior administrations. President Temer was the forgotten man of the election, mentioned by no one, because he has become irrelevant. Impeached former President Dilma, allowed to run for office, failed to get enough votes in the senatorial race in Minas Gerais, after having led all the pre-election polls.
And finally, what to make of Marina Silva, once the darling of the moderate left? If anyone is a symbol of the effect of the sudden bipolarity of Brazilian politics, it is Marina. In the two prior presidential first round elections, she ran third, with over twenty million votes each time — but in 2018 she barely passed the one million vote mark. Perhaps worse, her party (REDE) failed to pass the performance clause threshold.
Brazilian election politics have changed, irrevocably, from what they were during the last twenty years.