The left had a very good showing in major cities.
On the other side of the fence, the governing coalition saw
its combined tally as strong evidence of its
solid leadership position nationwide.
By ELMA LIA NASCIMENTO
A funny thing happened after the October first round of elections in Brazil on the way
to the second round: the right and the left had to get off the fence where they were
trying to hide their ideology. And they had to do this mostly to defend themselves from
the opposition attack that tried to present them in the worst possible light. Elections
this time were a show not only of democracy but also of technology. For the first time in
Brazil, every voterclose to 100 million of themused computer terminals to
choose prefeitos (mayors) and vereadores (council members) in 5560 cities.
These were the elections in which the leftist PT (Partido dos
TrabalhadoresWorkers’ Party), after 20 years in existence, has finally graduated to
the majors. With 11.9 million votes in the first round, the PT had a 50 percent jump when
compared to 1996, a year in which the party got 7.9 million votes. Among the other
big-league parties, the group that did the best was the rightwing PFL (Partido da Frente
LiberalLiberal Front Party), which was able to get 30 percent more votes than in
1996, going from 10 million to 12.9 million in the first round.
When the final results came in the PT had won more capital cities than any other party
including industrial powerhouse São Paulo. While the PT made a total of six mayors in
state capitals, the PSDB, PMDB and PSB elected four mayors each. The PFL was able to make
three mayors and the PDT, two. The PPB, the PL and PTB all elected one mayor each.
If you consider the growth of the voters’ pool in the last four years and the fact that
the electronic casting of ballot eliminated much of the annulled ballots, the growth of
the President’s party, the PSDB (Partido da Democracia Social BrasileiraParty of the
Brazilian Social Democracy) and of the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático
BrasileiroParty of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) was negligible. While the PMDB
grew from 12.7 million votes to 13.2 million, the PSDB went from 13 to 13.5 million, a
less than 5 percent increase, as shown by the first round numbers.
More attentive to the desire of the voters and tired of being just a noisy opposition,
today’s PT has lost its revolutionary drive and expressions like proletariat’s
dictatorship and guerrilla war have been excised from their political primer. Saluting the
new PT, weekly opinionated magazine Veja dedicated to the party a recent cover with
the long explanatory title: "The Pink PT. In changing the ideological discourse with
one on morality and efficiency, the party explodes in the ballot box." Besides pink,
the magazine says that the party has gained new nicknames like "PT Chanel" and
The reassuring results of the first round, at least initially, didn’t distract the PT
leadership. Representative José Dirceu, the party’s president, as well as House
representatives, deputados federais José Genoíno and Aloísio Mercadante, the
party’s main leaders, were talking in unison in order to contain the enthusiasm of the
troops and not let the success go to their heads. They all stressed that it would not be
smart to read in the future and to believe that the good results were any kind of
guarantee for the 2002 presidential elections, which they lost consistently for three
times in a row.
More than that, they concluded that the time of working isolated has passed and that
the PT needs to establish alliances if it wants to grow and make the next president. And
Lula’sLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva, PT’s honorary president, who for three times was
the defeated presidential candidate phrase echoed throughout the party: "The PT
alone does not win election."
With all the media circus involving the victories it was a hard act to keep a poker
face and not show enthusiasm. Soon after the announced first round results, it seemed
impossible to not win São Paulo in a landslide. São Paulo’s mayorship position is more
coveted than any other mayoral post and even more than most state governorships in the
country. Amid the celebration, the PT hid under the carpet the bitter defeat in Rio de
Janeiro, where its candidate, Benedita da Silva, came in third, thus being excluded from
the second round of elections.
Lula, however, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm and, suddenly, he was going frenetically
from town to town in defense of his party’s candidates. For a moment he seemed again the
inspired orator in another presidential campaign. After all, the polls say that he has at
least 30 percent of the votes anytime he decides once again to go for the presidency.
Dirceu also had a relapse and forgot about coalitions and alliances and started to say
that the PT might elect the next president without any help.
After getting more than two million votes in the first round of the mayoral election in
São Paulo, the most populous South American city, with 10 millions residents, Marta
Suplicy, a sexologist who became popular in the ’80s answering questions on sex on a TV
program, has become the indisputable star of the Workers’ Party.
A Change of Style
Even in some places where the first round of elections were lukewarm, passions flared
in the second phase. And some candidates, mostly those from the left, started to act in a
very unexpected way. In Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceará, for
example, Inácio Arruda, the mayoral candidate from the PC do B (Partido Comunista do
BrasilCommunist Party of Brazil) decided to end all his free TV electoral programs
on his knees praying. All to prove that despite being a communist he’s not an atheist as
his political opponentmayor Juraci Magalhães from the PMDBhas spread in the
area. Worried to see his numbers erodinghe lost six points in less than two
weeksin the polls, Arruda tried to win the backing of any religious leader who would
Sixty-nine-year-old Magalhães tried to hide the fact that the PC do B candidate
started his political career as an active member of catholic social movements and his
campaign has even used the Fátima’s prophecies in his favor saying that the second secret
of Fátima about the rise and fall of communism refers not to former Soviet Union, but to
a possible victory of his PC do B opponent. In turn he also heard a lot of rumors about
his own ill health.
That’s the same ploy Curitiba’s (capital of the state of Paraná) mayor, Cássio
Taniguchi, is using against PT candidate Ângelo Vanhoni, who calls himself a
"light"in Englishpetista. Taniguchi tried to connect the
opponent to the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem TerraLandless Workers’
Movement), a national group that after taking over unproductive land in farms has been
using scare tactics to occupy public buildings and even supermarkets in urban centers to
show the plight of the dispossessed. The trick worked. In a few days, the advantage of
Vanhoni over Taniguchi fell from 20 to 8 points.
Vanhoni is a good example of a defender of a light PT. The Paraná politician even
changed the red star, symbol of the party, to a chubby yellow one with a smiling face.
Vanhoni used to be on the extreme left, but today he doesn’t hide his taste for rock and
roll and fine wine. Neither does he think that his affluence betrays his commitment to the
The PFL leadership felt happy with polls showing that their alarmist techniques were
working in Curitiba and Recife. In both places they expected their candidates to win the
election in the first round and were quite surprised when they were thrust into a runoff.
In Rio, the rightwing PFL was confident that it would be able to reelect mayor Luís Paulo
Conde, who led in the dispute against César Maia from PTB (Partido Trabalhista
BrasileiroBrazilian Labor Party).
Commenting on the scare tactics used by the right, José Luciano Dias, a political
scientist from IBEP (Instituto Brasileiro de Estudos PolíticosBrazilian Institute
of Politic Studies), told online publication no.com.br: "This is a tactic that
certainly works. If the conservative candidate convinces the conservative voter that his
opponent represents the communist danger, the anarchy, he will revert his vote in his
Using poll information about 31 municipalities in which second-round elections were
going to be held, the IBEP concluded that the PT was in the best position to make mayors.
They might elect as many as 10 more mayors, they concluded in mid October.
In Olinda, state of Pernambuco, polls were giving the upper hand to Luciana Santos from
the PC do B (Communist Party of Brazil) in her bid to be mayor of that historical city of
300,000 inhabitants. Her opponent was the sitting mayor, Jacilda Urquisa, from the PMDB.
As other leftist candidates she had to counter an aggressive campaign waged by the
opposition and the candidate had to stress that she does not represent only communism, but
a coalition of center-left parties. In her campaign on radio and TV, Urquisa talked about
"executions promoted by communism in other countries" and accused Luciana of
being in favor of abortion and drugs.
For Luciana, the mayor’s tactics revealed her state of despair: "If she didn’t
talk about all of this nonsense, she would have to defend President Fernando Henrique.
There’s no way we can continue saying that we need to let the cake grow before we share
it. We are the 10th largest economy in the world, but hold the 76th
place in human development."
Luciana is a seasoned politician. Graduated in electrical engineering from Universidade
Federal de Pernambuco, where she was president of the student body, she has been elected
council member in Olinda and is now serving her second term as state representative.
In Maceió, capital of the state of Alagoas, the PPS (Partido Popular
SocialistaPeople’s Socialist Party) candidate, Régis Cavalcante, who is running for
the city hall leadership with sitting mayor Kátia Born (PSBPartido Socialista
Brasileiro/Brazilian Socialist Party), has insinuated that his opponent is a lesbian, by
saying: "She should go the beach in breeches."
Once again, appealing to some sexual information, Recife’s mayor Roberto Magalhães
(PFL) said that his PT’s opponent, João Paulo, has a lover. João Paulo responded in the
same low tone spreading that governor Jarbas Vasconcelos, a Magalhães’s ally tied his own
father to a tree and spanked him. The exchange between the two candidates heated up co
much that they were warned by the city’s electoral judge that they could lose entire free
TV programs if they didn’t tone down the personal innuendos and accusations.
In Rio, Mariângela, the wife of César Maia, the PPB candidate to city hall praised
her husband on these terms: "My husband is the only macho man in Brazil. He is homem
(man) with capital H." Mariângela has also attacked PFL’s mayor Luiz Paulo Conde,
Maia’s opponent, as a "thief of projects."
A Little Panic
Political scientist Wálder de Góes, in an interview with Brasília’s daily Correio
Braziliense, lamented the option so many candidates chose to win more votes: "The
second round is undoing the good political lesson that we were able to draw from the first
round. In the first round we had an election marked by good political debate, by the
discussion of local problems and the solutions presented by each candidate to solve them.
The voter was able to vote in a pragmatic way for the person who seemed better to him. In
the second round all of this has ended. The debate is going down to the bottom of the
well, causing the rebirth of a political primitivism that in some way we thought it was
Despite vows from all sides that this would be a clean campaign, at the end candidates
couldn’t resist throwing mud at their opponents. In São Paulo, for example, the voters in
the second round had only two choices:
1. A libertine woman who smokes pot, teaches pornography to little kids and wishes to
empty prisons and promote gay marriages.
2. A Nazi, male chauvinist, compulsive liar with sexual deviations and several cases of
corruption in his résumé.
That’s the way these candidates were portrayed by their challenger.
Paulo Malufhe ended up getting the votes to dispute the runoff for mayor of São
Pauloalmost ignored Suplicy in the first round. He was much more interested in
defeating Luíza Erundina (PSBPartido Socialista Brasileiro) and PSDB’s Geraldo
Alckmin, both running neck and neck with him to get to the second round for the dispute
with Marta Suplicy who had guaranteed the first place with considerable advantage.
A Datafolha poll on October 21eight days before the runoffshowed that the
number of voters stating that they would choose Marta had fallen to 52 percent while Maluf
had increased his participation to 33 percent. These numbers left the Paulista (from
São Paulo) PT candidate very unease since Suplicy, ten days before, had an advantage of
32 points, which had fallen now to 19. The erosion for the PT candidate started after a
debate between the two candidates. At that time, Maluf began to attack Suplicy’s stances,
calling her a defender of abortion, drugs, criminals and marriage for gay couples.
Another poll, this one prepared by the UP (Unidade de PesquisaResearch Unity)
Institute and released in the same day as Datafolha’s, showed an even smaller margin
favoring Marta. In this survey, the PT’s candidate had 49.5 percent of the votes against
35.8 percent for Maluf, a mere 13.7 point difference and a fall of 19 points compared to
the previous assessment by the same institute on October 15.
According to Sidney Kuntz, UP’s director, Suplicy’s fall was due to a lack of a
"prompt and direct" response from the candidate to Maluf’s accusations and
insinuations. "This is not an ideological campaign," Kuntz said. "That’s
why the vote migration has been constant. The second round cannot be the same as the
first. If one side attacks, the other side has to react." Kuntz also criticized Marta
for not using all the backing she got to the fullest. "She acts like she didn’t need
any help. She acts as if she were isolated, like Maluf is."
Strange enough, the UP poll revealed that Marta had a harder time with women than with
men. While she got 53 percent of the male voters against the 35 percent that favored
Maluf, among women her advantage was narrower: 45.5 percent for her and 36.6 percent for
her opponent. That despite some well known positions of Maluf towards women like his
infamous appeal to sexual assailants and rapists: "It’s OK. Do you have a sexual
desire? Rape, but don’t kill."
In the last week of October, and just a few days before election day, despite the
shrinkage in the size of her lead, Suplicy was worriless, at least publicly. "He who
has 60 percent of the valid votes in this town, after a campaign as insidious as the one
that was done, has no reason to be worried. Sixty percent vote for me, this is the good
side of the city." She conceded though that changes in the tone of her campaign were
done in response to Maluf. Instead of talking only about the PT candidate’s plans and
accomplishments, the campaign started to criticize the political past of São Paulo’s
Happy with his rise in the polls the PPB candidate said that he would catch up with her
opponent few days before the election. He also relented on personal attacks and started to
point her shortcomings and lack of experience in executive positions. "This coming
Wednesday, Mrs. Marta will be in a tie with me and will find out that she made a mistake
by insulting me," said Maluf as if he were the main offended party and added:
"The PT went back to the old red PT. It started again to attack me. Administratively
Mrs. Marta is disqualified to govern São Paulo."
A Mudslinging Primer
Drawing from a vast arsenal of innuendos and rumors, Maluf warned that if Marta won as
mayor of São Paulo there would be invasions from the MST in the city and once again
accused the PT of inciting urban guerrillas. Using declarations of Suplicy to daily O
Estado de S. Paulo that she smoked marijuana during the ’70s, the PPB’s candidate
said, "Can a candidate who smokes pot say that she is going to fight drugs in
school?" He also called the candidate a libertine, but to substantiate his claim he
only had the fact that Marta presented a sexual education program on TV Mulher during the
’80s. This TV station has since closed.
Dividing the world into two slices, "the side over here and the side over
there", Maluf likes to show what he sees as substantial contrasts between the two
candidacies. The side over here, his own, is the side that wants more time for convicted
felons in prison, a side that’s led by an engineer and that is climbing in the polls. The
side over there wants to free bandits too fast, is led by a sexologist and is falling in
In a rapid passage through the poor east zone of São Paulo, he asks a group of
residents while the rap "Eu tô desconfiado" (I am suspicious), made for his
campaign, plays in the background: "Has the other candidate come here? No! She is a
snob from the rich side of town who doesn’t know what you need." He naturally does
not mention the fact that he is much richer than his opponent and lives in the same area
that she does, the Jardins (an upper class neighborhood of São Paulo).
And in brief encounters with neighborhood leaders he declares, "While I was
working as mayor of São Paulo, Mrs. Marta was in Brasília defending abortion and the
civil union between individuals of the same sex. She is anti-Christian. She already had a
chance to do something to improve security, but preferred to deal only with sex." And
he concludes with a smirk, "São Paulo needs a mayor not a sexologist."
Among his accusatory pieces is the book Conversando Sobre Sexo (Talking About
Sex) authored by Marta Suplicy. Maluf has been seen carrying this book in his briefcase
all over town. According to him, the book bears witness against Marta: "I didn’t have
the opportunity to read everything because I spend my time reading good books and not bad
literature," he explained. "But for someone who wants to be mayor of São Paulo
the book is a condemnation." Several pages are marked with sheets of paper and some
lines have been highlighted with fluorescent ink.
Less than two weeks before the election, Maluf’s campaign covered the city with
billboards saying: "Mommy vote for someone who is against abortion" and
"Mommy, vote for someone who never used drugs." The insistence in depicting
Suplicy as a pothead had no basis in reality. The only "evidence" Maluf had was
an interview given by Marta to O Estado de S. Paulo in which she admitted to
experimenting with marijuana once in her life. But she goes on explainingsomething
the PPB candidate conveniently ignores that the experience caused her to cough a lot
and made her ill and that after that she never tried any other drug.
Curiously, the same tactics used by Maluf were utilized by another São Paulo mayoral
candidate to defeat a candidate that seemed unbeatable. This was in 1985. The candidate
attacked was President Fernando Henrique Cardoso who was then a senator and his attacker
was former President Jânio da Silva Quadros, who ended up winning the elections after
having accused Fernando Henrique of being a "pot smoker" and an
Marta Suplicy, who is not known for modesty or humility, has answered Maluf in the same
high pitch and started using the verb "malufar" (to maluf) as synonym for
robbing and lying. As for Maluf constantly carrying her book on sex, she commented with
sarcasm: "He should read my books to learn something." Pinocchio, crazy,
mythomaniac, and male chauvinist were some of the epithets Marta used to designate her
Behind the Numbers
In a survey carried out between October 21 and 23 by Ibope (Instituto Brasileiro de
Opinião Pública e EstatísticaBrazilian Institute for Public Opinion and
Statistics), the most traditional and trusted polling service in Brazil, Suplicy appeared
with a 15 point advantage over her opponent (49 points to 34). The same survey showed that
17 percent of the voters were intent on voiding their ballots. In a similar poll two weeks
earlier, Marta had 55 percent of the votes while Maluf had 30 percent.
According to the Ibope, the negative and personal campaign adopted by Maluf was working
mostly among the male voter with basic schooling and who earn from five to ten minimum
wages (from $400 to $800 a month). His message, however, was working the least among those
between ages 16 and 24. (Brazilians have the option to vote starting at age 16, but after
18 the vote is compulsory.)
In a shrewd way of converting bad press to his advantage, Maluf went so far as to
present the scandal-plagued current São Paulo mayor, Celso Pittahe was a creation
of Maluf and the candidate had even asked voters never to vote for him again if Pitta
weren’t a good administratoras an error no to be repeated. The PPB candidate talking
on his radio program made an appeal saying: "Do not make the same mistake again by
choosing an unqualified candidate."
It took a lot of beating and a big fall on the polls for the Suplicy’s campaign to
decide going on the attack. They seemed so confident of the victory and the advantage of
Marta was so large that they thought they could just go on with life while Maluf, without
any important backing, barked. To attack Maluf is an easy task. He is a politician from
the old school that believed that as long as there is some accomplishment, corruption
doesn’t matter and that adopted as motto the phrase: "I steal but I perform."
The former mayor of São Paulo is involved in 40 actions dealing with corruption. He has
already been convicted in first instance in ten of them.
Commenting on her fall in the polls, Marta said that she believed that the points she
lost were more a consequence of the fear tactics used by Maluf than of personal attacks.
The PPB candidate said, for example, that the PTMarta’s partyis going to
encourage people to take over public places like main downtown thoroughfare Avenida
Paulista or the Ibirapuera Park. There were other rumors spread by the opposition who
would make people believe that Marta would close evangelical churches or liberate the use
of drugs in schools. "We lost votes among voters who earn more than 20 minimum wages
($1600 a month), a kind of people who always feared the PT, but who were starting to
acknowledge our competence and honesty," said Suplicy. "With Maluf’s campaign,
this electorate retreated."
Said Suplicy, "I would love to limit the discussions to my proposals, but this is
impossible with Maluf: he uses nazi methods, discriminates against homosexuals, is against
the Church and distorts the facts. What can you do with someone who only thinks how to
disqualify his adversary?" Marta told reporters that she had challenged the candidate
to present proof of the rumors he spread. "But Maluf is super afraid: he backed away,
cowered and said nothing. He left as a rat." Marta promised that the political
trajectory of Maluf would be shown on TV and added: "If showing his life means
lowering the level of the debate, we are going to lower it."
On October 25, a Wednesday, only four days before the elections, the 20-minute free
electoral program on TV for both candidates was a show of absolute silence. Through their
lawyers, Suplicy and Maluf were able to knock each other off the air. The electoral
justice mentioned "the creation of artificial mental and emotional states" in
the public opinion to forbid Maluf’s presentation to go into the air. Marta’s show was
embargoed as punishment for the previous day program, which contained "clearly
untruthful statements about the opponent."
Suplicy’s show had dealt with a 1999 municipal decree related to education. Maluf was
punished for showing archive footage from 1997, in which the Military Police confronted
workers from the Federal District’s Administration. The intention was to illustrate the
disturbances the PT provoked. Viewers at home throughout the long dead silence were
presented with this note on the screen: "Electoral publicity suspended by decision of
the Capital’s First Electoral Zone."
It was a master coup for the lawyer teams of both sides and a portrait of what the
electoral campaign had become in São Paulo: a juridical fight. In the second round alone,
Suplicy’s staff by October 25 had already filed 45 actions against Maluf before the
electoral justice. They won five of these cases. From the 40 actions Maluf started, during
the same period, only one was won. With an incredible frequency the electoral justice
abandoned its passive role of quiet spectator to become the arbiter of what could and
could not be done by the candidates.
On October 24 alone, the four judges from the First Electoral Zone had to respond to 26
complaints of the candidates, all dealing with supposed infractions to the so-called
electoral law, the law 9504 from 1997. In one of the decisions, Lojas Marisa, a clothing
store, was forbidden to continue showing a TV spot to sell panties. In the ad two women
talk. Says one of them: "In these elections there were a lot of politicians who went
on offending the women who were candidates. These cowards!" The Maluf camp felt
offended and asked that the ad be scrapped.
Lawyer Ricardo Tosto led Maluf’s juridical team that had to continuously work overtime
during the week preceding the second round election. When he decided, for example, that
Suplicy’s could not continue showing Maluf uttering his infamous phrase "It’s OK! Do
you have a sexual desire? Rape, but don’t kill." his team found a very odd way to
make and finally win their case. In a rebuff to Maluf himself they argued that the quote
had become an incitation to people to commit rape. The PT spot had only a few hours window
to be shown before it was knocked down by the electoral justice.
On the PT’s side, lawyer Hélio Silveira backed by three lawyers’ offices with a total
of 15 attorneys, commanded the legal battle. Most of the time he has been trying to
prevent Maluf from publicizing material that according to him instill panic in the
population. Silveira was able, for example, to prevent Maluf from appearing on TV for 24
hours as a punishment for an ad that had a narrator imitating the voice of Lula, the PT’s
Even Marcelo Rossi, a famous catholic priest who brings hundreds of thousands of
believers to his showmasses, appealed to the electoral justice to prevent Maluf from using
statements he made against abortion. "No one can use my statements. Be it for one
side or the other," Rossi said indignantly. He wouldn’t say for whom he would vote,
maintaining that he has no right to influence the Catholic faithful.
"It’s OK. Do you have a sexual desire? Rape, but don’t kill."
An infamous Maluf statement.
"Mommy, vote for someone who is against abortion"
Maluf’s billboard in São Paulo in a veiled reference to Marta Suplicy who defends
the right to abortion.
"Daddy, I don’t want drugs in school."
Another one of Maluf’s billboards
"São Paulo needs a mayor not a sexologist."
Maluf dismissing Suplicy’s candidacy.
"He is overscared like a rat. I want to see him making these insinuations right in
front of me."
Marta Suplicy reacting to Maluf’s attacks
"Maluf uses nazi methods, discriminates against homosexuals, is against the Church
and distorts the facts."
Marta Suplicy describing Paulo Maluf.
"He is doing a campaign without any scruple."
Marta Suplicy’s husband and PT senator Eduardo Suplicy, attacking Maluf.
"He is still sick and he was even hospitalized in the beginning of the second
An anonymous pamphlet distributed in Fortaleza, Ceará, suggesting that mayor
Juraci Magalhães’s cured cancer has reappeared.
"The red represents war, bloodshed. It’s the devil’s color. It’s the PT’s
Pamphlet distributed in Recife, Pernambuco, accusing PT mayoral candidate João
Paulo as a hard-line communist
"Ângelo Vanhoni the candidate of the MST, these folks who invade public
Curitiba’s mayor Cássio Taniguchi, linking his opponent to the Landless Workers’
"My husband is the only macho man in Brazil. He is homem (man) with capital
H. Mayor Luiz Paulo Conde is a thief of projects."
Mariângela, the wife of Rio’s candidate César Maia, attacking her husband’s
The left had a very good showing in major cities.
On the other side of the fence, the governing coalition saw
its combined tally as strong evidence of its
solid leadership position nationwide.
As is so often the case with Brazil, anything national in scope usually carries with it
impressive numbers, and Sunday’s (October 1st) nationwide municipal elections
were no exception. Close to 110 million voters were involved in choosing among some 383
thousand candidates for mayor and city council, in 5,559 cities and towns. The first-ever
fully electronic election in Brazil was also billed as the largest such election of its
kind in the world to date: paper ballots have been retired for good, and all votes were
cast through specially designed voting machines.
Army and police reinforcements were stationed at several, mainly remote voting
locations as a security measure, but it was a mostly incident-free election. Minor,
isolated glitches ranged from occasional technical problems with voting machines, to the
exotic: a revolt against the mayor by natives in the jungle town of São Félix do Xingu,
in the northern state of Pará. The uprising delayed the vote count, but was eventually
sorted out by local authorities.
In yet another display of Brazil’s burgeoning love affair with the Internet, a special
website created by the electoral court system offering online results didn’t perform as
expected, because of what officials described as an "overwhelming" number of
visitors. This, in a country where supposedly just 5 percent of the population have
Internet accessironically, it is also the country with one of the highest
percentages of income tax returns filed electronically anywhere in the world.
From this massive nationwide voting exercise came results that were perhaps best
described by the presidency’s Secretary General, former congressman Aloysio Nunes
Ferreira: "Everyone can say they won the election, and they won’t be lying". Of
course, this depends entirely on one’s take on the final numbers, and on whether one
considers the multitude of municipal contests as one big national race to the wire, as
Brazilians tend to do with municipal votes. That said, indeed, as Ferreira puts it,
there’s a victory to suit every taste. A few examples:
In terms of total votes received, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s PSDB
party came out on top, with 12.9 million, or 15.75 percent of all votes castenough
to elect 964 mayors.
The PSDB and its main alliesthe PFL, PMDB, and to a lesser degree the PPB,
together elected an overpowering 4,182 mayors, while the main opposition parties
combinedPT, PDT, PSB and PPSmanaged to win in 742 municipalities.
The left-wing PT (Workers Party) elected its first mayor in northeastern Brazil
in 15 yearsa first-round victory in the Sergipe state capital, Aracaju. The party is
also in good shape to hang on to the important southern state capital of Porto Alegre, and
a PT candidate is the second round odds-on favorite to win the crown jewel: São Paulo.
Overall, the PT received a strong 11.7 million votes, or 14.22 percent of all
votes cast, which translates into 170 elected mayorsa low total for such a high vote
tally because most PT victories and top vote-getting performances happened in larger urban
The PPS party of presidential hopeful and former Finance Minister Ciro Gomes
chalked up an impressive jump, from 33 elected mayors in 1996 to 158 this time around,
although Ciro Gomes himself took it on the chin: the candidate he backed in his hometown
of Fortaleza, his ex-wife Patrícia Gomes, finished a distant third and out of the runoff.
Finally, the right-wing PFL partythe governing PSDB’s top ally, checked in
with a strong 12.5 million votes nationally, for 15.22 percent of the total and 1,007
elected mayors, up from 962 in 1996. Among their conquests is a leading position in the
runoff vote in Rio de Janeiro, with incumbent Luiz Paulo Conde.
Historically, municipal elections in Brazil have been interpreted by analysts and
voters as one big poll on federal government popularity. Although many observers feel
voters appeared, at last, to pay more attention to local issues, some
partiesespecially opposition parties at the federal level kept to the old
tradition and also attempted to reach "national" conclusions based on the
results. The left, led by the PT, saw its positive performance in major cities, and
fourth-best overall vote total among individual parties, as positive indicators of how the
party might do in the 2002 general elections. On the other side of the fence, the
governing coalition saw its combined tally as strong evidence of its solid leadership
Finally, the election more than likely laid to rest an argument over the introduction
two elections ago of re-election for incumbent mayors, governors and president. The
opposition often says this was a self-serving move, brought in to benefit President
Cardoso, but the latest results are more like an endorsement of the idea. While 30 percent
of incumbents did not seek re-election, many who did were unsuccessful, which defies
accusations that those in power would have an easy time winning re-election.
Incumbents who stayed away from the campaign generally did so because they didn’t
perform well in office. An obvious example of this is São Paulo’s beleaguered mayor Celso
Pitta. He’s been at the center of numerous accusations of municipal corruption since 1997,
and was nearly impeached earlier this year. On the other hand, incumbents who performed
well and sought re-election, were for the most part successful in their bids.
The most watched local race of all, in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, produced
mixed results. More than 50 percent of the city’s 55-seat council was replaced, with many
councilors involved in the massive corruption scandals that have plagued the city over the
past three years probably signing off from local politics for good. On the negative side,
the renewal of council isn’t as sweeping as it may appear. Several "new"
councilors are not new at all. Some are former councilors, others are well-known political
warhorses from the past. Unchecked, some "newcomers" are very likely to engage
in just the type of corrupt behavior that put São Paulo under a national microscope to
The São Paulo mayoralty race left the city between a rock and a very hard place. One
runoff contender was the PT’s Marta Suplicy, a Stanford-educated psychologist best known
for offering sexual advice on television in the eighties, and for her outspoken defense of
gay rights and abortion as a member of Congress. In 1998, she finished a strong third in
the race for governor of São Paulo state, just missing the runoff. Facing Suplicy was the
notorious conservative former mayor and former São Paulo state governor Paulo Maluf.
Possibly Brazil’s most controversial politician, he stands accused in connection with
numerous charges of corruption involving the current mayor, Celso Pitta, whom he launched
In making it to the runoff, Maluf put on a surprising display of political
survivabilityhe was considered down and out following the avalanche of charges
involving his own administration, and that of the candidate he endorsed, Pitta. With five
strong contenders among 16 candidates in the race for the mayor’s chair in São Paulo,
Maluf ended up squeaking into the second round with just over 17 percent of the vote. This
is about half his usual vote total in the city, so he has definitely lost political
ground. But it was enough to carry him to the big decision on October 29.
So there was this dilemma facing the voters of Brazil’s largest city, at a time when
the city’s need for municipal efficiency is absolutely dire: electing Marta Suplicy could
bring on a repeat of what happened the last time São Paulo had a PT mayor (Luíza
Erundina) from 1988 to 1992. The party’s most extreme wing was in control, and far too
busy delivering a political message to accomplishing much of anything practical. A move
widely remembered: following Erundina’s election, she ordered a tunnel under a major
river, which was nearly completed, filled in because "there were other
priorities". Erundina has since left the PT, and it doesn’t take much probing to get
her to detail what it was like being mayor under what the media often describe as the PT’s
The other downside of a possible PT administration is that several party members have
indicated they will pursue a national agenda, above all attempting to discredit the
federal government’s economic policies. One way to do this will be to concentrate on the
huge R$10 billion debt (about US$5.5 billion) amassed during the previous (Maluf) and
current (Pitta) administrations. Although there are endless charges of corruption and
misuse of funds by both, the PT is apparently choosing to concentrate on the effects of
sky-high interest rates on the city’s debt, again to build a case against the Cardoso
government, it’s "neo-liberal" policies, submission to the IMF, and so on. In
other words, the people of São Paulo could end up as political guinea pigs once again, as
the PT try to use their high visibility while in charge of the country’s largest and most
powerful city, to pump up a presidential campaign for 2002.
The unknown quantity in all this is Marta Suplicy herself. She has a strong
personality, and political ambitions of her own, so it is not clear whether she would
quietly submit to party tutelage as was so visibly the case with Luíza Erundina in the
late eighties and early nineties. If she does, she will certainly compromise whatever
future steps she hopes for in the political scene, while becoming the "rock" to
the left of voters in São Paulo.
The "hard place" to the right, Paulo Maluf, needs no introduction in these
parts. There is probably no politician who has faced so many charges of corruption and
misuse of public funds in Brazilian political history. He has certainly redefined
"Teflon", since nothing seems to stick. Which makes him either a master at using
Brazil’s convoluted legal system to his own advantage, or, as he is always quick to say,
totally innocent on all charges.
A former favorite of the generals who ran the country until 1985, he was an appointed
mayor and governor before elections were reinstated. In this, his umpteenth campaign, he
is calling on voters to give him a chance to correct the "mistake" of supporting
Celso Pitta for mayor. It’s also a way to counter a phrase he used in support of Pitta,
which his opponents now use against himMaluf would say "vote for Pitta, and if
he doesn’t turn out to be an excellent mayor, don’t ever vote for me again". As
Maluf’s critics often point out, he is campaigning as if he, personally, had nothing to do
with the city’s current disastrous situation, when in fact, Pitta’s administration was
nothing more than a continuation of Maluf’s own four years in office. This, in fact, is
perhaps the only campaign promise that Pitta delivered on: that as mayor, he would
continue Maluf’s "work"
In keeping with his usual campaign style, Maluf is playing up one of his favorite
themes, promising to fight urban violence. This is a play on his days as governor in the
early eighties, when a particularly nasty division of the São Paulo state military
police, known as ROTA, was widely known for shooting first and asking questions later.
Maluf pursues the anti-violence angle although police forces in Brazil answer to state
governments and not municipalitiesin other words, as mayor, he would nave no direct
control over the police apparatus
So with the rest of Brazil watching closely, Paulistanos, as the citizens of
São Paulo are known, had to face a very clear-cut political choice, since the runoff
candidates are at very opposite extremes and nowhere near the political center. And the
city’s voters also had to withstand a great deal of mud slinging. Discrediting his
opponent was the only way to cut down on Marta Suplicy’s large early lead in second-round
polling. At the start of the second round, the Suplicy camp promised to steer clear of
personal attacks, and stick to issues.
Marta Suplicy campaign Website (Portuguese only)
Paulo Maluf campaign website (Portuguese only)
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