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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Brazil's awkward second round

By Heriberto Paredes. Footer.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ? Two days before the election, on September 30, 2022, the DataFolha survey published a poll in the main media in which it gave 50 percent of voting intentions to the candidate of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, and 36 percent to the current president and candidate for reelection, Jair Bolsonaro, of the Partido Liberal (PL).

The final results after the election are different from the forecasts: 48.43 percent for Lula and 43.20 percent for Bolsonaro. Beyond the fact that the results mean a second round, scheduled for October 30 of this year, what the figures indicate is that the margin between one project and the other is very small and that whoever wins the presidency will have to govern with a strengthened opposition.

The second round also speaks of the network of alliances that bolsonarismo has been building to strengthen itself, as well as the effectiveness of the political machinery of vote buying and intimidation on voting day.

Brazil's second round
Photo: Heriberto Paredes. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

The following weeks will be a time of tension that should not be neglected, especially now that it is visible that beyond the presidency, governability will be in the strategies of the middle levels, from governors to federal and state deputies. And there too, Bolsonarism still has a lot to say, having won all the governorships and many seats in Congress.

During the days prior to the election there was no other topic of conversation, there was no corner where there was no speculation about the results of this election, perhaps the most crowded since the end of the dictatorship and the constitution of what is known as the New Republic, a period of social life in which there are elections and people choose their rulers.

However, this has also been one of the complications: the possibility of electing a character like Bolsonaro, considered in many circles as a fascist.

On the eve, the streets of Rio were bustling with the closing of the campaigns of the state and federal deputies, as well as councilors and governors who would also be elected on Sunday, October 2. People walking around waving flags of various colors with the pictures of their candidates, people standing at the entrances of the subways handing out flyers, cars beeping as the heads of people shouting slogans or making the symbols of their favorite candidates for president peeked out of the windows. A pistol drawn with fingers for Bolsonaro and a letter "L" for Lula.

Photo: Heriberto Paredes. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

"Everything points to the fact that this is not a conventional lawsuit, as its results may bring consequences beyond what we are used to expect from an electoral process. An eventual victory of Bolsonaro may open the doors to a coup, but a defeat may also give the same result. Nothing is assured", cautiously declared the Brazilian collective Desmedida de lo Posible in a text disseminated days before the election.

Any excessive optimism or pessimism will leave aside what always happens in politics: there are no absolute results and even less in such a diverse, polarized and militant country. And in the face of a second round, even less so.

What Bolsonaro's policies have left behind

"A radical, fundamentalist, misogynist, sexist, sexist, violent, reactionary project emerged, but a very strong movement also emerged, led by the struggle of women, especially black and indigenous women, and this process is irreversible", assured Mônica Francisco, an Afro-descendant woman candidate for reelection as state deputy in Rio de Janeiro for the Freedom Socialism Party (PSOL) who, in spite of everything, did not manage to win.

For the public official, her experience in the social movement, the work she had alongside Marielle Franco until her murder in 2018, all led to the strengthening of a movement of Afro-descendant women who now, after Bolsonaro's government, are fighting the battle against what they consider to be a fascist government and policy.

Mônica Francisco Photo: Heriberto Paredes. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

For Francisco, there is an upward curve where the protagonists are people of African descent, indigenous and LGBTQA+, "this presence is ascending, it has not yet reached its maximum level because the legislative houses, government executives, presidency and prefectures still do not reflect a force, for example, of a policy that reinforces the presence of more women, more black men and women, more indigenous people".

Looking at the results of this election, it is not risky to say that Bolsonarism is not as weakened as it was believed and the small distance between the results of Lula and Bolsonaro, as well as the deputies, governors and councilors won by the ruling party, awaken alerts.

Leticia Flôrencio, PT candidate for state deputy in the Baixada Fluminense of São João de Meriti, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, said: "Bolsonarismo has brought some very serious problems, both social and moral. The cost of living is very high, the price of things is absurd, local politics is full of right-wing politicians, clientelists, linked to Bolsonaro, by ideological coincidence or economic interest. The idea is sold that everything is the fault of the Congress, which prevents progress on many issues, when the truth comes from local politicians who put an end to social policies".

"Many people are afraid, afraid to show their political preference but in this electoral process many people showed their support for Lula and that means a great advance."

Outside the center, other things happen

The ride takes more than an hour from downtown Rio de Janeiro to the end of the subway, to the Pavuna station, in the northeast of the city. Mãe Lucia, leader of the Yepondá Women's Group, was waiting for me there along with her grandson, a quiet and smiling boy under 20 years old. We still had to travel almost 20 minutes to reach Biaxada Fluminense, an area in the municipality of São João de Meriti, the periphery of Rio because most of its population works in the metropolis and spends more than four hours on public transport.

Gone are the cobblestone streets of the city that once housed the Portuguese crown in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, far are also the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, what now stands out is the invasive presence of cement: bridges, avenues, houses. Everything is gray, or almost, what breaks the grayness are the colors of the political propaganda thrown in the streets and the food and fruit stands. Far away is the samba, instead you can hear the local funk and the motorcycles pass without stopping at the crossroads.

Photo: Heriberto Paredes. Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange

This is a place with a large bolsonarismo presence, you can see it in the yellow t-shirts people wear in the streets or in the thousands of "stickers" with the president's face and his number on the ballot. It is noticeable in the loud parties outside the voting centers, in the intimidating atmosphere despite the music and the smell of churrasco. All the people are drinking either beer or cachaÇa and are not happy in front of the camera.

This peripheral area is, together with most of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the place where bolsonarismo swept and left the PT greatly diminished, which, although it is still afloat, it is visible that it does not have much room for action.

"We were the community leaders who attended the population during the pandemic, we made masks and gave information and we did not receive anything from the municipality, many of the people you saw in the street do not say they are with Lula, they are afraid for fear of reprisals", commented Iâ when explaining the context in which the elections took place here.

"We are living a campaign of fear, I had never lived a murder of another person because he had a different political opinion. Our country is the country of carnival, of religions, of June festivities, with many ethnic groups, my Brazil is many Brazilians, but my grandson is afraid because he may be murdered, but we continue with the campaign".

The Yapondá Women's Group collaborated strongly with the campaign of the candidate for state deputy, Leticia Florêncio, and it is through this participation that it was able to witness the difficult political context. In addition to the conditions of poverty, lack of services, lack of transportation in the periphery, political violence constituted a breaking point to polarize the population.

A participant in various social movements that fight for housing and to improve living conditions in the periphery, as well as in student theater and popular art groups, Florêncio, originally from the Baixada Fluminense, became involved in politics based on a basic principle: "only struggle changes life". Now, after a militancy from a very young age, she has gradually become a substitute candidate and is now running for state deputy with the PT.

"I am from a territory of periphery, from a territory that lacks investment because we still live in a state that treats those who live in the central places in one way and those in the periphery in another way. A spatial racism is created where those who have more money have more investment in health, education, culture and on the contrary, this is where more should be invested in these matters"

After the election, the results did not favor her candidacy and she did not get the deputation, that is, once again Bolsonarism will occupy a position that could have been occupied by a woman concerned about the problems of her territory. "We have an unequal dispute, because money makes a lot of difference in the electoral campaign".

The second round

After the election results and a very tight victory for Lula, what is emerging is the need to pay more attention to two processes, on the one hand, the political game that will develop at the local level, where small parties are gaining strength with victories in state and federal deputies, such as the PSOL.

On the other hand, the strengthening of a Bolsonarist military right wing, which is despised, but not necessarily understood, and this generates the minimization of its power and its capacity of recomposition. It is not minor that it is in the peripheral areas of the big cities where the number of voters has grown, or, as shown by the official counts, in regions such as the Amazon, a place where he swept despite the crisis of destruction experienced by its inhabitants and the jungle thanks to the business and economic interests linked to Bolsonaro.

The results are being digested among the population and analyses abound. It is not the celebration of the victory by "knock out" but the feeling of uncertainty between one round and the other, where it is decided either the victory of a moderate political project of the center as represented by Lula, or the choice of a second term of the president who favors the military and ultra-right sectors while destroying natural resources.

After the voting, those who celebrated were the people elected to state and federal deputies. In Rio de Janeiro there was a festive atmosphere among the militant people close to the PSOL, a party which, with a more radical leftist identity, has managed to grow and reach more positions within the Brazilian government.

Tarcísio Motta and Renta Souza, now federal deputy and state deputy elect, celebrated in a venue in the Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most emblematic for nightlife in this city. In front of hundreds of people, they reaffirmed their commitment to the political struggle and to the construction of a more just and dignified society. Unlike what happens in other places, here, in Brazil, a good part of the politicians are not far from public life and attend the same places as the rest of the population, so it is possible to discuss with them directly. Perhaps this way of holding office is the easiest way to guarantee governability, whoever the winner is in a runoff election that was not wanted.

Heriberto Paredes Coronel (Tlaxcala, 1983), Mexican freelance photographer and journalist, dedicated to documenting organizational processes in indigenous and peasant communities, the search for missing persons and environmental issues in Mexico. He currently explores formats such as documentaries and podcasts without abandoning photography and text, where he explores new narrative routes. He has collaborated with national and international media, has directed short documentaries and is currently in the development phase of a feature documentary as well as writing a book that brings together more than a decade of work on the Michoacan coast. He lives in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Twitter @BSaurus Instagram @el_beto_paredes.

This article was produced with the support of the organization Global Exchange in collaboration with Peninsula 360 Press.

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