Results reflect frustration with the political establishment in a nation rocked by corruption and economic pain
BRASÍLIA—Brazilian voters punished the leftist Workers’ Party that ran the country for the past 13 years in nationwide local elections on Sunday, giving a boost to non-establishment candidates and small parties in a sign of widespread disgust with their established leaders.
The Workers’ Party, or PT, which until recently was a leading force for Latin America’s left, won 263 mayorships in Brazil, less than half the city halls it won in 2012, according to newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
Nationwide, the PT received just 6.8 million of the 118.8 million ballots cast on Sunday, according to local paper Folha de S. Paulo, a fifth-place showing that signals a tough road for the party to regain the presidency in 2018.
“This is an extraordinary fall,” said Carlos Melo, a political-science professor at São Paulo’s Insper business school. The PT “lost its machine, its prestige and its political capital.”
The party’s reversal of fortune was on clear display in Brazil’s largest city, the industrial hub of São Paulo. Incumbent PT Mayor Fernando Haddad finished a distant second, garnering only 16.7% of total vote in the city where the PT was created by metalworkers union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the 1980s.
Mr. da Silva, who vaulted the PT to the presidency and led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, became very popular as a global commodities boom lifted the nation’s economy. But a streak of corruption scandals and a deep recession in the past two years have tarnished him and his party.
Mr. da Silva’s successor, former President Dilma Rousseff, was toppled earlier this year following an impeachment trial on charges that she broke budget laws. Mr. da Silva has been accused by prosecutors of masterminding a sprawling graft scheme around state oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, which he denies.
The winner in São Paulo was João Doria, from the center-right Brazilian Social-Democracy Party, or PSDB, a historic rival to the PT. Mr. Doria got 53.29% of the vote, an unprecedented result that eliminates the need of a second round.
Even though the conservative Mr. Doria hails from a traditional party, he had never run for elected office before and is seen as an outsider. A wealthy media entrepreneur, he put 2.9 million Brazilian reais (around $900,000) of his own money in the campaign, more than any of his 10 competitors.
The PSDB came away with 812 mayorships, up from 701 it conquered in 2012, according to Folha de S. Paulo. Some lesser-known parties—in a nation with nearly three dozen of them—also gained ground.
In another sign of voter discontent, around 7% of Brazil’s 144 million registered voters either didn’t show up or they cast blank or “null” ballots, which is a valid option here. Voting is mandatory in Brazil; those who fail to do so can be fined and can lose access to some government benefits until they clear their status.
In São Paulo alone, some 3.1 million voters either didn’t vote or cast null ballots—more than the 3.09 million who elected those backing Mr. Doria.
“There is a clear disconnect between the real world and the politicians,” said Brasília political analyst Andre César. “For the voter, the politicians aren’t responding to their needs and will.”
A second round of vote is scheduled for Oct. 30 in contests where no candidate attracted more than 50% of the vote; the top two vote-getters will go head-to-head in a runoff.
Sunday’s vote comes just weeks after Ms. Rousseff was ousted Aug. 31 following a controversial impeachment trial. She was replaced by her ally-turned-enemy Michel Temer, from the PMDB. Mr. Temer, whose enemies accuse him of orchestrating Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment, has launched a fiscal-austerity agenda that may have alienated some voters.
The centrist PMDB controls the largest number of seats in Brazil’s Congress and held its ground with just over 1,000 mayors. But it won the lowest number of votes since 2004 on Sunday. It also lost the mayoral contest in its traditional stronghold of Rio de Janeiro.
“The PMDB could have expanded more, but this [meager] performance was expected,” said Thiago de Aragão, a political consultant in Brasília.
The municipal vote comes amid a fierce battle over the federal budget, as the economy is shrinking and the hole in government accounts is widening. A key bill amending the Constitution to cap government spending for the next 20 years is starting to make the rounds in Congress.
Since lawmakers tend to be influenced by mayors—who, in turn, are seen as key to swaying local voters—it is important for Mr. Temer to have as many sympathizers as possible in the country’s town halls.
The now stronger PSDB supports the bill in the national level, but it is unclear how its newly-elected mayors will behave, since most will need federal funds to plow ahead.
“There will be pressure” against austerity, Mr. Cesar said. “It is already complicated and there could be an extra element with the new mayors,” he said.
Fonte: The Wall Street Journal Online – EUA 03/10/2016
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