A not-so-new mayor for Rio

A hybrid man for hybrid times: Eduardo Paes wins easy reelection in the first round, with a record 64.6% of the vote

Feeling right at home

He helped bring the Olympic Games to Rio, installed state-of-the-art technology for day-to-day municipal operations, opened new leisure spaces outside the South Zone, gave the West Zone a new dedicated bus route with articulated buses, says he’s getting municipal schools out of a decades-long rut, and expanded preventive health care. He speaks English fluently (every other word is fuck, just as his every other word in Portuguese is porra) and knows how to charm foreign funders and partners.

Yesterday, Paes said he plans to focus on health care and transportation in his second term.

Most of his first-term accomplishments were directed at the part of the socio-economic pyramid occupied by the new middle class and those beneath it, whose needs and demands finally became a priority in the last decade. The upper classes admire his administrative capability; most of his secretaries are modern-minded and extremely hardworking.

Ideas, not machines

Still, Paes needed a political machine– which is what his main opponent, Marcelo Freixo, who got 28% of the vote, lacked, and says he abhores. Paes made an alliance with 19 other parties, which also allowed him to maintain an overwhelming majority in the city council, with 39 out of 51 councilmen on his team. Previously, he had the support of 38 councilmen.

Machines, as former president Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff well know, are particularly necessary in a society where a large portion of the population has long been excluded from formal political and economic participation. The disadvantaged depend on personal ties to territorial and business chieftains, who help solve their problems in exchange for votes.

The only difficulty with machines, as Lula and his former chieftains are finding in the last few weeks, with the mensalão judgement taking place in Brasília, is that they need to be fed– and it’s become more and more difficult to do so discreetly, as Brazilians wake up and demand respect from their politicians.

A military government took power here in 1964 because the upper classes feared such an awakening. For twenty-odd years the country held elections only for a minority of congressmen. The first democratic election was in 1982, for governor; the first direct presidential election was in 1989.

Under the tutelage of former three-term mayor César Maia, who was elected to the city council yesterday, Paes learned the difficult art of mediating between the chieftains and the populace at large. It’s an art necessary for these times, as Brazil transitions from oldtime clientelism to a modern democracy, where issues and ideology, not personality, are at the heart of elections.

Oldtime politician and former state public safety chief wasn’t elected councilman

For Freixo and his supporters (as well as many of the other contenders), Paes’ modus operandi and his priorities are at odds with their vision of the city of Rio de Janeiro. They say he does the bidding of developers, construction companies and bus fleet owners, as well as milícia chiefs, that the result will be to push the poor out of the center and South Zone, westward. They complain of his authoritarian style and the lack of community and city council input in the city’s revitalization. And much of what he has accomplished goes only skin-deep, they add, pointing in particular to city schools and urban transportation.

Paes has the support of the Globo media empire, which hasn’t done much investigative reporting on urban development or transportation, and skimmed over his milícia connections despite the fact that the milícias are why 3,500 army troops occupied many of the city’s unpacified favelas during the election (O Globo did report a request to the electoral commission’s to investigate Paes’ alleged payoff to a small political party for its support, after Veja magazine broke the story).

Many cariocas say they don’t care who is mayor; they’re used to carrying on  with their lives and livelihoods regardless of politics. This is probably why the election saw a significant rate of abstention– 20.45%– despite the fact that voting is required in Brazil.

Two million voted for Paes, but a million voted for other candidates

With his landslide first-round reelection, his overwhelming city council majority, and the absence of a mainstream press watchdog– plus alliances with the state governor and President Dilma–  Paes appears to hold monolithic sway over Rio.

Still, the fact that Rio and the country as a whole are transitioning means that the terrain under the mayor’s desk is far from stable. As the socioeconomic pyramid becomes more pear-shaped and cariocas gain access to information and self-expression by way of technology, Paes will have to constantly refine that art of mediation; i.e. feed the machine while accomplishing something for his electorate. This will be interesting to watch.

“Nothing should seem impossible to change”: Freixo’s motto

Says Leonardo Eloi, project director of the Meu Rio digital political activism NGO, “The balloting was very interesting given the appearance of a new political opposition movement head by passionate young people, something we haven’t seen in a long time. This movement brought awareness of the importance of society’s participation in local politics, to people who are usually on the margins of the process, and sparked the desire in thousands of young people to be closer to the city’s administrators, which will certainly have a positive effect on the coming administration.”

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro almost 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A not-so-new mayor for Rio

  1. I was waiting for your take on this. Good informative article, which is a nice change from the flood of politically biased texts that have been around on the last few weeks/months.

  2. This was super interesting! I’ve been reading some news about the elections, but didn’t understand that much and didn’t bother to translate all the words.. So this post made me understand it a bit better! Thanks for sharing it :)

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