Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A month of Sundays after the first round of Rio’s mayoralty election, the mendacious mud-slinging machines have been mothballed, so voters can return to their favorite pastime—watching novelas — without the bother of political interruptions. But first, of course, Cariocas should vote this Sunday.
Notwithstanding the legal provision that voting is obligatory for all Brazilians age 18 to 70, the Curmudgeon expects that the turnout in Rio this Sunday will reach historically low levels, for several reasons.
The first reason is the paltry size of the fine. The maximum is R$3.51—less than a trip on public transportation. Moreover, you have sixty days after the election in which to pay. In other words, if you’re not in a mood to vote, you can simply take off for the weekend.
The second reason is holidays—Cariocas typically get out of town for long weekends, and this year offers great temptation to voters to “get out of Dodge”. Today is Civil Servant Day, when government employees don’t have to work. The judicial system moved that Day to next Monday, and as next Tuesday and Wednesday are holidays for the judiciary, their employees can take a five-day respite from their toils and travails.
The third reason is the candidates. Voters who do not want either Marcelo Crivella or Marcelo Freixo as Mayor far outnumber those who do want one or the other. After the first round, where the Marcelos out-polled the mainstream candidates, supporters of the vanquished opponents have felt like orphans.
Voters who dislike both Marcelos and stay in town do have another choice—they can either void their vote, or leave it blank. Recent predictions are that up to twenty percent of voters will choose the “plague on both your houses” approach and not vote for either candidate.
When you add that twenty percent number to the expected 25 percent of registered voters who either choose to leave town or who find more attractive options here in Rio (beach, shopping malls) than standing in line waiting to vote, you arrive at 45 percent of the electorate who will have opted out of the election process, leaving 55 percent to make the choice for them.
Does that sound dreadful to you? It shouldn’t, if you’re a U.S. citizen. In recent United States Presidential elections, the percentage of Voting Age Persons who actually do vote has been around 55 percent.
Because the Brazilian election returns only count valid votes (void and blank votes are invalid), the winning Mayor Marcelo will have received the support of well under half of the registered voters in Rio, perhaps as little as one-third.
Neither is a member of a mainstream party; neither has any substantial support in the City Council. Therefore, whoever is elected will have a very difficult time governing Rio de Janeiro during his four-year term.
The Curmudgeon offers no prediction on the results this Sunday.