Brazil headed for political realignment. Municipal elections oust old power structure in favor of leftist parties
Sao Paulo, Brazil
The results of Brazil's municipal elections are expected to change the country's power structure and directly affect the 1989 presidential election, political analysts here say. Voters almost everywhere spurned President Jos'e Sarney's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party in favor of smaller parties on both the left and the right.
Tuesday's vote ``eliminates a bunch of people who have been in power since the [1964-1985] military government, who worked solely to defend personal interests,'' said Helio Jaguaribe, a political scientist at the Rio de Janeiro Institute for Political and Social Studies. ``These people were harshly punished [at the polls].''
This means, he and others say, wiping a number of center and right-wing politicians off the political map, and focusing the presidential race - the first in 29 years - on candidates from the center-left and leftist parties.
Most surprisingly, the neophyte leftist Workers' Party (PT) won mayoral races in three state capitals, including Sao Paulo, South America's largest city.
``On the one hand, you feel sort of afraid, because [the Workers' Party] is an aggressive party, but there has to be drastic change, with the way people are feeling pressured by inflation,'' said Luisa Barbozano, a Sao Paulo secretary who voted for the Workers' Party.
Brazilians have become fed up with the economic situation within the last two years. Inflation has risen (it hit 27.5 percent last month) while real wages have dropped.
One of Brazil's few ideology-based parties, the leftist Workers' Party grew out of a Sao Paulo labor movement in the late 1970s. Now, it faces the challenge of managing municipal budgets which add up to about $7 billion next year, according to the Gazeta Mercantil, the national business daily.
The new focus, analysts say, does not mean that Brazilian policymaking will necessarily swing to the left. They interpret the Nov. 15 results more as a giant show of protest against monthly inflation of close to 30 percent, rather than a vote for any particular ideology or political program.
``It's a consolidation of the democratic process,'' said Ozires Silva, a banker and former president of the State Oil Monopoly, Petrobras. ``The people are making the decisions ... The PT vote came out of frustration, it was a vote against.''
The Workers' Party victory in Sao Paulo has caused some apprehension in the business community. Mayor-elect Luiza Erundina, the city's first woman mayor, has said she will favor the homeless over real estate owners in urban land conflicts and plans to take over privately owned bus companies. (In the last 14 years, the city's population has grown by 63 percent, leaving millions homeless.)
The Sao Paulo stock market index reacted Wednesday with a 6.3 percent drop; the black market dollar and gold prices rose.
Political analysts point out that the Workers' Party will have to temper some of its more radical ideas, in order to work with the City Chamber. And, notes Mr. Silva, ``if they fail, the next election will remove them from office.''
The mayoral term is four years. And it begins in January.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, Marcello Alencar of the leftist Democratic Labor Party won.
Silva and others say they believe the military is keeping calm about the Workers' Party victories, which also included several key cities adjacent to Sao Paulo, Brazil's business center.
The Rio de Janeiro newspaper, Jornal do Brasil, reported yesterday that the armed forces ``received the news with naturalness,'' although they were surprised [as was almost everyone] by the last-minute surge of the Workers' Party candidate, Ms. Erundia, in Sao Paulo. The military, said Mr. Silva, understands that ``we're paying a high price for democracy and freedom, that Brazilians of every political persuasion have to make a contribution to the consolidation of democracy. Everyone has already soaked up the taste of democracy and freedom.''
The military have been concerned, however, about a number of strikes going on in key state-owned industries, including steel and petroleum. With fuel supplies low, these strikes could cause social and economic upheaval similar to that which sparked a military coup in 1964. In recent weeks, strikes led to violence and at least three steelworkers' deaths, in a factory battle with Army soldiers.
President Sarney was scheduled to send a temporary measure to Congress yesterday, to declare such strikes illegal and punishable, immediately.
Also yesterday, Finance Minister Mailson da Nobrega proposed tax increases to the business and labor representatives who are negotiating a so-called ``social pact'' to bring down inflation and the federal budget deficit.
The violence and social pact's lack of results were widely seen as two main factors in the ruling party's defeat.