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2018 Brazilian Election Guide

2018 Brazilian Election Guide

Not too long ago, Brazil was considered to be the country of the future. However, since 2013, when crowds took to the streets to protest government inefficiency and corruption, the country has been going through continuous political turbulence. Administrative scandals rocked public confidence in the government, high-ranking officials were jailed, inflation grew, and the economy slumped. 

Despite the mass protests that year, incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was reelected after a contentious race in 2014. This victory marked the Workers’ Party’s (PT) fourth term in government since former union leader Luís Inácio Lula da Silva won the 2002 election. Throughout Lula’s time in office and the beginning of Rouseff’s, a Chinese commodity boom increased Brazilian exports, which helped the economy grow at an average of 2.5% a year. This allowed the PT to invest in grand social programs, such as Bolsa Família – “Family Allowance”. As a result, human development improved, inequality was reduced, and millions of people were lifted out of poverty. [1]

As the economy slowed in reaction to decreasing commodity prices and police investigations revealed deeply rooted corruption, Rousseff’s approval ratings plummeted during her second term. The populace turned against her presidency and began demanding her impeachment. [2] She was removed from office in April 2016 for fiscal pedaling, and Michel Temer, her vice-president, who suggested that the nation had become ungovernable under his Rousseff’s leadership, replaced her.

Temer prioritized reforming the country’s economic landscape by introducing austerity measures, but his efforts were not well-received by all, as some still see Rouseff’s impeachment as illegtimate. Furthermore, corruption scandals in his administration and impeachment attempts lowered his administration’s approval ratings below Rousseff’s. [3]

As a result of all this, Brazilians are worn out from politics. According to an October 2017 report by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s Department of Public Policy Analysis, only 6% of Brazilians say Temer’s government was an improvement over Rousseff’s. The picture of disaffection is made clear by the fact that only 16.1% feel represented by the current politicians, and just 15.9% believe Brazil is headed in the right direction. [4] However, 83% of subjects also responded they have faith in the country. 

Today, Sunday, October 7th, Brazilians head to the polls for general elections with the hope of starting a new political cycle. It is a long-awaited opportunity for renewal, and the eventual winners will face the difficult task of putting the country back on track.

Brazil is a bicameral presidential federative republic. The country’s executive power is headed by a president and is separate from the legislature. Congress is composed of a lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, and an upper chamber, the Senate. As a federation, the Union has twenty-six states and a federal district. The states, unlike the Union, are unicameral and have no senatorial bodies.

Elections occur every two years, alternating between the municipal level and the state and federal levels. This year’s will be state and federal elections, and they will decide 1,059 state and district deputies, 513 federal deputies, 54 senators (two-thirds of Senate seats), 27 governors and the presidency. [5]

Legislative positions are chosen through a system of open list proportional representation. Votes go towards the number of seats and those seats are then assigned to the candidates with the most votes within their party coalition list. This means if a single candidate wins enough votes, he or she can win seats for other candidates on the party coalition list who would otherwise not have been elected. [6]

The new president – like all elected executive positions and senators – will be decided in a two-round runoff election. Unless a single candidate wins a simple majority of votes, the top two candidates face off against each other in a second round of voting. These two election days are scheduled for October 7th and 28th respectively, and no presidential election has ever been won in the first round since the current system was implemented in 1989. 

Due to the country’s historically fragile democratic tradition, with the current constitution being just 30 years old, many measures have been taken to strengthen institutions and encourage political participation. As a result, the Brazilian electoral system is highly centralized, with electoral law being an exclusively federal competence regulated by the Electoral Justice of the federal judiciary. Detailed oversight includes the requirement for opinion polls to be officially registered, for candidates to submit official government plans and for debates to include candidates that qualify within official rules. 

Elections are always scheduled on Sundays and participation is compulsory for all literate citizens between eighteen and seventy years of age. It is optional for ages between sixteen and eighteen, as well as for those older than seventy. Unjustified absences accrue a small fine equivalent to less than a dollar, and the loss of certain rights until its payment, such as being barred from obtaining government documents or applying for government jobs.

Brazilians must register to vote, and are assigned a polling site based on their registration. On Election Day, they must present a government-issued identification document to verify their identities. Brazil is also moving to implement biometric identification, with ballots in 28% of municipalities containing fingerprint scanners, for which 32% of voters are registered. [7]

Ballots are electronic, consisting of a screen, a number pad, and three buttons: confirm, correct, and blank. The process for casting one’s vote consists of confirming one’s own voter registration number and the electoral numbers of the candidates he or she will vote for.

Every candidate is registered with the Electoral Justice and assigned an electoral number. State and district deputies have five-digit numbers, federal deputies have four-digit numbers, senators have-three digits and executive positions (governor, president) have two-digit numbers. The first two digits for every candidate’s electoral number are their party’s electoral number, meaning the electoral numbers for candidates to executive positions are their parties’ electoral numbers. [8]

Voters can input two-digit party numbers for legislative positions if they want to vote for the party lists rather than individual candidates. All candidates must run through a political party, and parties often form coalitions to share votes and resources. [9]

There are thirty-five registered political parties in Brazil. Parties must be federal, so state-level parties are prohibited. This is in intended to prevent political division along state lines, a problem that afflicted Brazil’s Old Republic. 

To ameliorate the negative effects of party coalitions, this year’s elections for state and district and federal deputies will feature an election threshold for the first time, where candidates must win at least 10% to take office. This is meant to curb the ability of inexpressive candidates and parties to win seats simply by joining a popular coalition. As an extension of this, coalitions will be banned by 2022. [10] 

These measures were passed in last year’s “mini” electoral reform with the goal of giving parties more significance by reducing the amount of parties represented in Congress. Currently, parties carry little weight, as many representatives vote individually and frequently change affiliation. This is one of the reasons why parties are among the least trusted institutions in the country. Seventy-eight percent of people doubt the integrity of parties. [4] 

The reform also banned corporate donations and introduced electoral and partisan funds to make up for the loss of external financing sources. This measure is intended to combat political capture and corruption, but it is hotly contested, as many people oppose the use of public funds for political parties.

In the month preceding elections, political campaigns have designated daily time-slots on television and radio, where they are allowed to broadcast political advertisements. These blocks are divided between the party coalitions based on the number of seats they hold in the Chamber of Deputies. Both the duration of campaign season and political advertisements are shorter than in past elections as a result of the electoral reform.  

The Candidates

The Electoral Justice registered 13 candidates for president. Below are the presidential candidates with the numbers ratings on election polls, with their party abbreviation, electoral number and results in the October 5th Datafolha election report:

The Candidates

Pesquisa Datafolha 5 outubro.jpg

A graphical depiction of the candidates poll numbers over time

Jair Bolsonaro.jpg

Jair Bolsonaro (PSL, 17) – 35%

Jair Bolsonaro began his political career as a legislator in Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Assembly in 1989 and has been serving as a federal deputy since 1991. A former captain in the army, he has become known for his maverick nature. In his 26 years in Congress, Bolsonaro has switched between several political parties. This year, he left the Progressive Party (PP) to run for president through the Social Liberal Party (PSL).

 Bolsonaro’s running mate is General Hamilton Mourão, who has been campaigning through the Brazilian Labor Renovator Party (PRTB). The two are in the “Brazil above Everything, God above Everyone” party coalition. Despite having limited outreach, with a meager 8 seconds of campaign media time, Bolsonaro boasts the largest social media following, with 6 million followers of his Facebook page, and has been at the forefront of the polls with only Lula placing ahead of him in early projections.

 Bolsonaro embodies the indignation of many Brazilians with the country’s present situation and represents a conservative pushback against decades of rule by the Worker’s Party. He has placed much of the blame for Brazil’s woes, whether it be high crimes rates or a failing education system, on the PT as well as the Brazilian left. He considers school curriculums to have ideological and sexual content, and social movements such as the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) to be terrorist organizations.  

In response to widespread violence in the country, Bolsonaro has promised a tougher stance on crime, offering stronger judicial backing for on duty police officers and a reduction of the age of penal majority. He has also vowed to repeal the Disarmament Statute, thereby allowing citizens to more easily acquire firearms to defend themselves. [11]

Bolsonaro has adopted a more economically liberal agenda and has often deferred judgment on economic matters to his advisor, renowned liberal economist Paulo Guedes. The markets have warmed to the idea of Bolsonaro presidency through his proposals for labor reform and his promises to cut the number of executive ministries by half and to privatize state assets. [12, 13]

Yet, the former army captain has been criticized for a lack of knowledge of economics and the vagueness of his proposals. Opponents call him unqualified, while his supporters argue that it is reasonable for a president to leave specifics to an appointed cabinet.

Furthermore, as an open defender of the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-1985, Bolsonaro’s “political incorrectness” has gained him international notoriety and provoked concern amongst critics who fear he is a threat to Brazilian democracy.  Additionally, his controversial remarks on subjects such as gender, race and minority rights have further galvanized the opposition against him, and he now has the highest rejection rate amongst voters. His move to the PSL resulted in a fracturing of the party as the libertarian-leaning movement, Livres, have splintered off. [14]

On the sixth of September, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a campaign rally in the state of Minas Gerais. Since then, he has had to undergo three surgeries. Despite his hospitalization and subsequent impairment to campaign, his polling numbers have continued to grow. In light of recent polls, Bolsonaro has begun an effort to win in the first round in order to prevent a confrontation with the PT in the runoff.  Crucial factors to consider when assessing his chances of becoming president are how much a possible ‘shy tory’ factor – voters voting differently than they reported they would in polls – might boost his performance on election day as well as whom he might face in the runoff.

Fernando Haddad.jpg

Fernando Haddad (PT, 13) – 25%

For 14 years, from 2003 to 2016, the Worker’s Party governed Brazil under President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and then under Lula’s handpicked successor President Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). Despite Rousseff ‘s impeachment in 2016 and the party losing many seats and offices in the same year’s municipal elections, (15) Lula has remained immensely popular for the advances achieved under his government, when the economy was booming.

 In April, Lula was jailed on charges of corruption and money laundering. This would prevent him from seeking any elected positions based on the Ficha Limpa – “Clean Record” – law, which was passed under Rousseff’s government. Initially, the PT protested Lula’s ineligibility on the premise that there had been past exceptions to the Clean Record Law and that Lula’s imprisonment was illegitimate. They ran a campaign with Lula on the ticket for President and Fernando Haddad for Vice-President based. However, as part of an agreement with the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), Fernando Haddad became the new presidential candidate with the PCdoB’s Manuela d’Ávila as his running mate when the Superior Electoral Court ruled that Lula’s candidacy was illegal on September 1st. [16] 

A professor of political science with a background in economics, law and philosophy, Fernando Haddad entered Brazilian politics in 2001 as the sub-secretary of finance for the city of São Paulo. When Lula was elected president of Brazil in 2002, Haddad was invited to work for the Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management. Subsequently, he was elevated to Minister of Education, heading the department from 2005 to 2012, when Haddad was elected mayor of São Paulo – the country’s richest and most populous city. [17] In 2016, he was defeated in his bid for re-election in the first round of voting, with just 17% of the vote share – a fact that is frequently brought up by those who doubt his candidacy’s prospects. This year, when Lula was jailed, Haddad acted as his lawyer. This granted him privileged access to the former president and allowed Haddad to become Lula’s replacement in lieu of former governor of Bahia, Jacques Wagner. [18]

 Lula/Haddad’s government plan tackles key PT issues, such as combating poverty and increasing democratic political participation. [19] Haddad has stated his intent to undo the Temer government’s labor reform as well as  the New Fiscal Regime, known as the Lei do Teto – “Ceiling Law” – , which limits government spending for 20 years. [20] Haddad is one of the few candidates opposed to reforming social security, arguing that fiscal reform and economic growth can make up for the current deficit. [21, 22] His plan also mentions drafting a new constitution by calling an exclusive constitutional convention, a condition of the agreement with the PCdoB. [23, 24]

Together, the PT, PCdoB and PROS (Republican Party of the Social Order) form the “People Happy Again” coalition, which has 2 minutes, 23 seconds of campaign media time–the second longest time. Their campaign banks on the association of Haddad’s name to Lula’s, constantly referring to the jailed party boss, with their slogan being “Haddad is Lula, Lula is Haddad”.

It is said that Lula is popular enough to elect a pole. In the past, Lula’s endorsement was enough for candidates such as Rousseff and Haddad to win elections despite not having held any previous elected positions. Even while in jail, Lula led polls by a wide margin while Haddad remained mostly unknown, with few intending to vote for him according to polls. Nevertheless, his numbers have grown at astounding rates since the campaign change, bringing him to second place within a week.

However, Haddad has to contend with the PT corruption scandals and with critics’ assertions that the party is to blame for Brazil’s current state of affairs. Furthermore, there is concern that a socialist PT government would make Brazil the next Venezuela, alluding to the political, economic, and social crisis gripping the neighboring nation.

Ciro Gomes.jpg

Ciro Gomes (PDT, 12) – 13%

Ciro Gomes began his political career as a Ceará state deputy in 1983. He was elected mayor of the state capital of Fortaleza in 1988 and governor of Ceará in 1990 – the youngest in the country, at 34 – consolidating a stronghold in the northeastern state. Gomes served as Minister of the Economy under President Itamar Franco in 1994, then Minister of National Integration under President Lula in 2003. Afterwards, he was elected federal deputy in 2006, and recently served as Ceará’s Secretary of Health in 2013 under his brother, Governor Cid Gomes. [25]

After a brief stint in the private sector, Gomes joined the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) and returned to public life for his third run for president (first time in 1998 and second time in 2002). The center-left PDT historically rivaled the PT, but also participated in all PT governments since 2006. Now, after years of declining vote shares, they are breaking the alliance and hoping to make a comeback with Gomes at their helm, having previously backed him in his 2002 bid.

Due to this fragmentation, Gomes and the PDT have struggled to find support and were left to form the “Sovereign Brazil” coalition with only the Avante party, as center parties picked Geraldo Alckmin while the PT drew in the PCdoB and struck a deal to prevent the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) from siding with Gomes. [26, 27, 28, 29] The vice-presidential candidate, Tocantins Senator Kátia Abreu, was picked from within PDT ranks. A controversial figure, Abreu is criticized by progressives for her ties to agribusiness, but remained loyal to President Rousseff during impeachment proceedings despite being in the leading pro-impeachment party at the time. [30, 31]

 Gomes’s main focus is industrialization. He forwards an elaborate national-developmentalist project under the mantra of “uniting the working class with the productive class”. Proposals include increased taxes on the rich, investments on infrastructure and the buyback of strategic assets from foreign owners. [32] Gomes is favorable to structural reforms, but not the way the Temer government proposed them. [33] He plans to revoke the Ceiling Law, to revise the new labor laws, and to reform social security. [34] His most highly advertised program is the proposal of a government-backed renegotiation of indebted citizens’ credit scores in order to encourage economic growth through increased consumption. [35] 

With a relatively low rejection rate, Gomes has been one of the top candidates throughout most of the campaign despite only having an unimpressive 38 seconds of campaign media time. He has polled regularly above 10% of the vote share/among the top three. Nevertheless, critics consider him authoritarian. They point out his short temper and foul language, his family’s involvement in politics, and as the heterodoxy of his economic proposals.

As a left-leaning alternative to Lula and the PT, Gomes managed to reach second place in polls in the short time between the official barring of Lula’s candidacy and the consolidation of Fernando Haddad as his replacement. Now that Gomes can no longer campaign as the sole major left-wing candidate, he has escalated his attacks on the PT. His campaign strategy has switched to presenting himself as a third way alternative to the PT and Bolsonaro, utilizing second round projections, in which he has a wide margin over Bolsonaro, to gain voters. However, this would first require him to overcome Haddad’s robust electoral presence.

Geraldo Alckmin.jpg

Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB, 45) – 9%

Although a doctor by education, Geraldo Alckmin has a political career dating back to before Brazil’s democratic reopening. As a member of what was then the official opposition party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), Alckmin entered politics in 1972 as a municipal legislator for his hometown of Pindamonhangaba, São Paulo. Four years, later he was elected mayor – the youngest in Brazil, while still in medical school, at age 24 – followed by state deputy in 1982 and federal (constitutional) deputy in 1986, reelected in 1990.

 As a founding member of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), Alckmin became vice-governor of São Paulo in 1994, under Mario Covas. The two were re-elected in 1998, but Covas passed away in 2001, leaving Alckmin to replace him.

 Alckmin was elected for another term as governor in 2002, at the end of which, he ran for president in 2006. He lost to Lula in the runoff, with 39% of the vote share. After losing another election, for mayor of São Paulo in 2008, Alckmin became state Secretary of Development under the PSDB government of José Serra, in 2009. The following year he was elected governor of São Paulo in the first round, a feat that he repeated in 2014. [36]

 In 2017, Alckmin replaced Minas Gerais Senator and 2014 presidential candidate Aécio Neves as party president after Neves was charged with corruption. The presidential candidate selection process saw significant infighting, with Manaus mayor Arthur Virgílio withdrawing from the primary race over criticisms about the party’s direction as well as of Alckmin’s handling of primary conventions. [37] Even when Alckmin was the sole postulant for presidential candidate, members doubted his prospects, and proposed São Paulo mayor João Dória as a replacement. [38, 39]

Nevertheless, Alckmin’s candidacy was officialized with the support of the centrist party bloc, the so-called centrão – “big center”. The eight-party alliance (PSDB, DEM, PP, PPS, PR, PRB, PSD, PTB, SD), the coalition “To Unite Brazil”, has by far the largest portion of campaign media time – five and a half minutes – and commands a plurality of seats in Congress, which makes it considered crucial for legislative support. Alckmin’s running mate, Rio Grande do Sul Senator Ana Amélia Lemos, was picked from the Progressive Party (PP) in an effort to draw in support from the agricultural, female and southern electorates. [40]

Alckmin’s proposals are limited in their specificity due to the possibility of sparking disagreement with the other coalition members, but tend to favor austerity measures. [34] His agenda looks to reduce the current size of the bureaucracy in order to fix the nation’s finances and he has defended Temer’s reforms as a necessary evil. However, his approach to reforming the economy is milder than that of other candidates, given his reservations towards full privatizations, cuts to social program, and to the current structure of the New Fiscal Regime. [41] This would place him as one of the center-leaning candidates. 

Despite a rough start to the election season, Alckmin was considered one of the main contenders for the dispute as the “market’s candidate”. [42] It was expected that his massive campaign time would bring him up in polls when campaigning started. However, this never happened, as Bolsonaro’s staunch opposition to the PT granted him a larger following, while Alckmin’s rhetoric of moderation failed to win him as many supporters. 

Having mounted a strong anti-corruption campaign against the PT, the PSDB lost much of its credibility in the eyes of the people after getting involved in its own share of public embarrassments. This includes participating in Michel Temer’s scandal-ridden government as well as Aécio Neves’s corruption charges. Where supporters argue Alckmin’s leadership of São Paulo is evidence of his qualifications, opponents see his party as riddled with corruption. The PSDB, especially with the success of Bolsonaro and the presence of other candidacies, has lost its place as the main anti-PT platform in Brazilian politics and is seen by many as part of the establishment – a criticism that was not helped by its alliance with the centrão.

Marina Silva.jpg

Marina Silva (REDE, 18) – 4%

Born to a family of rubber tappers in Acre, one of the poorest states in Brazil, Marina Silva grew up under harsh conditions, facing illness and illiteracy until her teenage years. As an environmental activist, union leader and member of the PT, she was elected municipal legislator of the state capital of Rio Branco in 1988. She rose to state deputy in 1990 and in 1994 became the youngest senator in the country’s history. 

Marina was reelected in 2002, but initially served as Minister of the Environment under Lula. She resigned from her executive position in 2008 due to a lack of support to her environmental initiatives. [43] The following year, she left the PT to join the Green Party (PV), for which she ran for president in 2010, reaching third place, with 19% of the vote share.

Marina went on to found her own party, the Sustainability Network (REDE), in 2013, but could not get it officially registered in time for the 2014 presidential election, so she joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) to run for vice-president on the same ticket as Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos. When Campos died in a plane crash during election season, Marina became the presidential candidate, once again reaching third place, with 21% of the vote share. She endorsed the PSDB’s Aécio Neves, who lost to Dilma Rousseff, in the runoff. [44]

Marina is now running for president as REDE’s candidate in the “United to Change Brazil” party coalition with PV. Her running mate is PV’s Eduardo Jorge, who had also run for president in 2014. Having struggled to find partners beyond PV, however, the ticket was left with just 21 seconds of campaign media time. [45]

 While primarily an environmentalist platform, Marina’s proposals are centrist in their balance of left- and right-wing concerns, advocating a limited albeit present government. She is critical of President Temer’s reforms but recognizes the need to reduce government spending and also advocates for increased autonomy of the Brazilian Central Bank. [46, 47, 48] She has taken a more socially liberal position in response to criticisms over her religiosity. [49]

As in 2014, Marina presents herself as a third way alternative to the PT and the PSDB, so as to set herself apart from the Brazilian political establishment. Early polls placed her as one of the favorites for this year’s election, trailing right behind first place Bolsonaro in scenarios without Lula. However, with the election breaking from the typical bipartisan format and the divide forming around the PT and Bolsonaro instead, not only has the moderate vote shrunk, but Marina has had more moderate contenders to compete with. As the only major female candidate, she has campaigned heavily for the women’s vote to try to make up for these adversities.



















































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