Many cariocas would love to have seen former mayor Eduardo Paes’ face yesterday, when the first numbers came in on the Rio de Janeiro gubernatorial race.
It was just past six PM when partial results flashed on the GloboNews screen: Paes, at the 20 or so percentage points he’d been leading with in the last several weeks; and some guy named Wilson Witzel, with over 40%. Witzel had only 10% in the last Ibope poll!
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The two go into the second round Oct. 28, Witzel having earned 42.28% and Paes with 19.56%, all first-round votes counted. Paes — considered presidential material in Rio’s boom years — must be thinking of going back to working with Chinese electric cars, a job he held during his self-imposed exile once he left office at the end of 2016. If he loses the second round Paes would also lose the chance to renew his Supreme Court jurisdiction privileges; he’s just been accused of receiving bribes as illegal campaign contributions, no proof given.
On the one hand, the bitter taste of the 2016 Olympic Games brought to Rio by Paes and the now-incarcerated former governor Sérgio Cabral and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, seems to linger with state voters. On the other, they are enjoying the novel power of shaking up traditional politicians. Less than a week of Whatsapp messages was apparently key to Witzel’s rocketing.
Logically, both factors should continue in play for the second round.
During the first-round campaign, Paes focused on the competition from the former soccer star Romário, who was running second and came up with only 8.7% of the vote. Tarcísio Motta, opposition PSOL party candidate, also saw last-minute growth, to third place, with 10.72%.
Little is known about Witzel, from the tiny Partido Social Cristão. A criminal court judge until he decided to run, he’s a friend of judge Marcelo Bretas, responsible for the Rio de Janeiro cases in the Lava Jato investigation. According to press reports, Witzel played a role in the removal of a group of indigenous people from the Museu do Índio in 2013; today he says police should shoot any would-be criminal armed with a rifle.
This may be the first time Rio has a former judge as governor, coming from the only state government branch as yet untouched by Lava Jato.
An enormous political change took place yesterday. Earlier, pundits said either Bolsonaro or Haddad would meet with congressional barriers to economic policy. But Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, won so many seats in congress that this may not hold.
It’s also now possible to imagine an alliance between Witzel with a future President Bolsonaro, who’s from Rio. Both scenarios, however, depend on totally unknown future political behavior. Will Rio’s troubles take federal priority? Will negotiations and relationships involve ideology, interests, government posts, money?
Will Bolsonaro act like any politician? Or will he pull a Trump? We are, after all, in the era do imprevisto (the age of the unforeseen, as described in a recent book by Sérgio Abranches).
This also threatens to be the age of beginners. The learning curve has its costs, suffered by Rio’s citizens in the Marcelo Crivella administration, which took office in 2017.
With Crivella as mayor, Witzel as governor and Bolsonaro in Brasília, Rio will certainly undergo a transformation, with possible emphasis on police forces, paramilitary gangs and evangelical churches. We have yet to see, in this scenario, the workings of institutions responsible for making sure laws (such as those protecting human rights) are fulfilled and concessions and government officials are duly checked up on.
Given politicians’ conflicting and changing positions, also unknown is the emphasis that Rio’s pillars of culture and petroleum will have. What will become of our Bohemian and rebellious nature?
Perhaps most important, Brazil’s armed forces are set to depart Rio at yearend, having contributed to an increase in violence between security personnel and civilians that is likely to worsen in a more permissive scenario.
More than anything, we’ll depend on the press, both mainstream and independent. We’ll need constant journalistic coverage of new officials, both day-to-day and investigative reporting. As seen in Trump’s USA, journalists become easy targets and their work brings few immediate results. Yet information in this new political moment will be more crucial than ever.
At all levels of government, ballot boxes showed voters’ desire — and capacity — to change up everything. The goal is to end corruption, return to honesty. Few may have considered that honesty is just part of an effective politician’s makeup. It’ll be a long road as we pick out other desirable attributes of those who govern and represent us.
“Rouba mas faz” (He steals but he gets things done), the hallowed motto of Brazilian politics, may enjoy a certain nostalgia in the not-too-distant future.