Curitiba Elects New Mayor
Rafael Greca will be the new mayor of Curitiba, having been elected in a surprising election on Sunday, October 30. The surprise comes from a 15-point margin of victory by Greca over his opponent, Ney Leprevost. Greca garnered 38.38 percent and Ney received only 23.66 percent. Voting in Brazil is always held on Sundays.
The elections yesterday were the second round as neither candidate had more than a 50 percent majority in the first round. In Brazil, where there are 33 official political parties, it’s common for first-round voting to be overcrowded with candidates, and no candidate receives a majority. Many elections, both municipal and presidential, go to the second round, so two election dates are always scheduled in advance.
In the first round of voting earlier in October, Greca had a clear margin of victory over the other candidates. However, as late as ten days ago, polls reported Ney Leprevost with at least a 5-point lead. Supporters of Greca feared his association with the governor of the state, Beto Richa, would hurt his chances to be elected. Beto Richa is a former mayor of Curitiba and was popular until some controversies in Curitiba erupted last year, including a teacher’s strike that lasted months and ended in violence.
The victory for Greca was announced at 5:30 pm on Sunday, just 30 minutes after the polls had closed. As Brazilians vote electronically and all use the same computer system, vote tallies for the entire population are almost immediate.
Today Greca’s supporters are envisioning a smooth transition to the next mayoral administration beginning in January, as the current mayor, Gustavo Fruet, departs having lost his bid for re-election in the first round to Greca and Leprevost. Curitibanos are hoping that Greca and Governor Richa can work together to improve the quality of life in Curitiba. Fruet and Richa were often on opposite sides of planning and budget considerations.
Rafael Greca, age 60, has a long history of political service to Curitiba. He served as the city’s mayor from 1993-1997. He was also a state representative and federal representative from Paraná for eight years and was a Minister in the administration of former President Cardoso in 1999 and 2000. His academic background is as a civil engineer with a specialty in urban planning. He graduated from the Federal University in Curitiba in 1978. Greca is also a writer, editor, poet, and historian. He is a close associate of Curitiba’s most famous mayor, Jaime Lerner.
The unexpected victory by Greca was indicative of a national trend of rejection of the PT (Workers Party), which had been controlling the country for the past 14 years until the impeachment this year of Dilma Rousseff. With the founder and leader of PT, former president Lula, under investigation on charges of corruption, PT was hit with resounding defeats in this month’s municipal elections.
Former president Dilma, now living in Porto Alegre, said she didn’t vote in yesterday’s election because the PT candidate lost in the first round, so neither of the two candidates for mayor there were from Dilma’s party. Porto Alegre had been a supporter of leftist politics and PT. In fact, in the seven mayoral elections yesterday across the country where PT candidates were running, all seven lost. The PT even lost the reins of power in São Bernardo do Campo, the city in which PT was founded and where Lula lives. Lula admitted that he, too, did not vote on Sunday because neither candidate was from PT in his city.
In Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, voters ousted incumbent mayor Fernando Haddad, once a rising star of the governing PT, and replaced him with João Doria, a wealthy conservative businessman.
Authorities arrested 48 people for violating election laws in Brazil on Sunday. Many of the arrests were for campaigning inside polling places, an act that is illegal in Brazil, although no reports of significant incidents were reported. Soldiers were deployed in 12 municipalities, several of which are in the Rio de Janeiro metro area, where acts of violence occurred during the campaign.
In Rio, Marcelo Crivella won the mayor’s race, beating progressive Marcelo Freixo by a wide margin. With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Crivella garnered 59.35 percent of the votes to 40.65 percent for Freixo, a former school teacher, who is with the leftist Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). Though Freixo garnered energetic support from celebrities, artists, intellectuals, and prosperous Rio leftists, their ballots were easily outnumbered by a populist vote in less affluent parts of the city, traditionally skeptical of progressive platforms.
Rio’s new mayor, Crivella, 59, is a bishop in the giant Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, founded by his billionaire uncle, Edir Macedo. During campaigning, Crivella faced uproar over comments made in a 1999 book he wrote where he described homosexuality as evil and the Roman Catholic church as demonic. The margin of his victory was a surprise amid the liberal social attitudes of many of Rio’s residents, known as cariocas.
What was most surprising about Sunday’s elections, in addition to the unexpected win by Greca in Curitiba, was the astonishing number of the populace who didn’t vote, considering voting is legally mandatory in Brazil. In the past, nearly everyone has voted. (Voting is voluntary for those 16-17 years old and for senior citizens.) However, some citizens have learned that if they report to the Election Court in a timely fashion and admit they didn’t vote, the penalty fine is small. As a result, over the past decade the percentage of the population who haven’t voted has continued to rise. In some municipalities yesterday, the number of absentee votes reached 25 percent of the total.
In addition, Brazilian voters are also permitted the option of voting white (branco) or black (nulo), instead of voting for any candidate. A “white” vote means that after the polls close, the white votes are given to the candidate who is ahead in the voting. In this way, voters are assured they voted for the victor, whoever it might be. Conversely, a “black” vote registers that the voter has performed his civic and legal duty by voting, but s/he has refused to pick any candidate.
In analyzing the total of absentee votes, and added to the black and white votes, an astounding fact emerges. In Curitiba and Rio, for example, these three voting categories together equaled more than 40 percent of the population. Meanwhile, Greca won with only 38 percent of the vote. In Rio, absentee plus nulo plus branco votes equaled almost 47 percent of the voters, while the losing candidate, Freixo, received only 40 percent.
Clearly, Brazilians are voicing their belief that they are tired of “politics as usual” in Brazil. A common expression about politicians (“He’s dirty, but he gets things done”) is no longer acceptable. With the Lava Jato scandal still in the daily headlines after 18 months, political corruption is finally now playing a significant role in the minds of Brazilian voters.
A similar example can be seen in the US. With voting voluntary in the US, it’s common to record in a municipal election a majority of the population staying home. While many people see this as a form of civil disobedience, a silent and personal denouncement of the political system, critics contend that nulo or absentee votes undermine the principles of democracy. They suggest that in addition to showing distain for corrupt politicians, conscientious citizens should actively support those candidates who have exhibited an honest dedication to their jobs. A citizen’s complaints about the government go unheard if that citizen refuses to vote.
B. Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.
[Research for this article comes from Forbes, the BBC, Reuters news agency, and the Latin American Herald Tribune]