Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

The 2016 local elections in Brazil: who will control more local resources from 2017 onwards?

The power of the parties after the recent municipal elections and the collapse of the Workers’ Party anticipate important changes at state and federal level in the forthcoming elections. Español Português

Campaignt meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 26 september 2016. AP Photo/Leo Correa. ALl rights reserved.

There are a number of interpretations of what constitutes a political party’s driving force as an organization that show how much it relies on two essential resources: the number of positions it controls in the administration, and the public budget it is responsible for.

The first resource is related to the party’s capability of placing its affiliates, who often act simultaneously as public servants and campaign officers[1] for the party, in a variety of jobs in the local administration. It is particularly important to consider here the so-called “commissioned” positions. These are posts which are filled by individuals who do not go through an open selection process, but are instead appointed directly by the local government. These jobs include many functions: from the most basic to the most complex ones; from civil-servants who actually turn up at their workplace to others who are known as “ghosts”; from high-salary positions to less paid ones. It is important to note that these positions are not only filled by the party who won the elections – actually, in some cities the word “party” does not represent much.

Many of these positions are filled by technocrats who were already working in the local administration and whose mission is to develop public policies. Other positions are offered to electoral allies, and are used to nurture future complicities for other political matters beyond local government. Crossing data of non-elected candidates with jobs in other municipal administrations controlled by the parties is a great start to understanding this phenomenon. Clearly, parties use local governments as incubators for political talent. Each state’s legislative assembly is a good thermometer for this: in order to ‘get votes’, state representatives seek the advice of politicians who work in their regions and at local level, following a feed-back electoral logic. That is the game.

The second resource – budgets - is related to the idea that parties get their strength through the possibility of having an impact on reality and implementing its policies by using public expenditure. It would be too romantic, however, to believe that this is all there is. The bigger the amount of money a party manages and the larger the volume of resources per citizen in the municipalities where it holds office, the more attractive the political apparatus becomes for partnerships, schemes, exchanges and actions that strengthen the party’s funds and its bargaining power in future elections. Crossing data from companies that provide services for local governments and companies that are campaign service providers is a very interesting exercise indeed, especially if we intend to overcome the foggy reality created by phantom firms, or the so-called laranjas - people who lend their names to hide the beneficiary of a fraudulent transaction.

Who won the elections?

The context explained above leads us to one core question: who will control more space and resources in Brazilian municipalities from 2017 onwards? What do the 2016 elections results tell us about this question? Our aim is to bypass the more traditional analyses, by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) and the National Treasury. Despite some inconsistencies, such as the fact that these databases include no information on a few hundred out of the 5.568 Brazilian municipalities, the main budgets and posts are nonetheless registered. So, let us see who is really the great winner of the October local elections.

With more than a thousand mayors elected throughout the country, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) is the party which holds more local government positions in Brazil. Municipal elections have become this party’s favoured space for political action, as they have managed to elect more than a thousand mayors since 1992. The PMDB also controls a vast number of supporters, campaign officers and local public servants, whose jobs depend on the party’s victory. Please note that local governments are the main job providers in many cities in Brazil, where 25-30% of the positions – or more - can be filled with technical or political appointments – that is, by the mayor.

Not far behind PMDB and its almost 90.000 positions comes the Party for Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) with more than 85.000. The tucanos[2](as PSDB members are known) have come out stronger from these elections and their situation is now a very significant one. Then come, at a lower level but with considerable strength, four strategic parties: the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), the Progressive Party (PP) and the Democratic Labour Party (PDT).

Completely hopeless in these elections, the Worker’s Party (PT) only holds about 20.000 positions at the local level. This is a vey low number for a party that, in the President’s Office alone, used to control more than 20.000 management positions as well as thousands of other posts it was able to use in technical, ideological and political terms.

Graph 1 – Total amount of appointed positions controlled by each party

Sources: IBGE (MUNIC, 2015) and TSE (partial data)

Graph number 2 represents the budgets controlled by parties, based on 2015 data from the National Treasury – which, unfortunately, only includes a little more than 4.900 municipalities. Still, the PSDB’s lead as a major financial resource controller is clear, mostly due to its winning the biggest budget in the country: that of the city of São Paulo. Because the PSBD won 28 out of the 92 cities with more than 200.000 voters, it is not surprising that it should control twice the financial resources of the second party on the list, the PMDB. The PT ranks 10, and the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) ranks 4, thanks to Marcelo Crivella’s important win in Rio de Janeiro.

It is relevant to notice that the PMDB controls a large amount of appointed positions but is in charge of a lesser amount of financial resources, which is due to the fact that this party has more pull in small cities. The data show that while the PMDB governs over 14% of the Brazilian population at local level, the PSDB governs locally 24% of the population. Once more, the PT is the big loser. Not only because of its defeat in São Paulo, but because the number of cities it governs today has decreased by 60%. Furthermore, the party has gone from controlling 20% of the electorate in 2012 to less than 3% in 2017.  

Graph 2 – Total budget controlled by each party 

Sources: National Treasury, IBGE and TSE

The comparison between the two variables analysed above – positions and budgets – makes it crystal clear that the PSDB is the party that comes out stronger from the municipal elections in terms of resource control. Being the big winner of the elections, the party will have plenty of political resources compared to the other parties. Something similar – at a smaller scale – happens with the PMDB. The other four parties highlighted before – PSB, PSD, PP and PDT – are in good strategic positions, and the PT, yet again, shows its acute deoxygenation.

Graph 3 – Relationship between Municipal Appointed Positions (2015) x Municipal Budgets (2015)

Sources: National Treasury (2015, partial data) and TSE (partial data)

Politically, the extent to which parties can articulate all these resources in the forthcoming state and national elections remains to be seen. Keeping in mind that that PSDB and PMDB are the largest parties in Michel Temer’s government, it is also interesting to ponder whether this scenario will easily accommodate the two municipal giants in the same national government in the future.[YS1]  The tucanos already have internal disagreements regarding the 2018 presidential elections, while the PMDB needs a strong name as candidate.

If politics, as many believe, starts at the local level, the challenge here is to understand whether the PMDB will accept to gracefully lose its “reign” as the local government party. Some observers have pointed out that part of the PMDB’s conflict with the PT followed the latter’s expansion at local level following the 2012 elections, when it “invaded” PMDB’s territory. Many others remember the conflicts between the PSDB and the PMDB in the 90’s – it is hard to forget the 1998 strife between defenders of and opponents to the two parties’ alliance for the re-election of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (president of Brazil from 1995 to 2002) at the PMDB’s National Congress.

In light of the distribution of "real power" resulting from these local elections, the forthcoming electoral calendar promises changes that can be very relevant at state and federal level.


[1] The original term in Portuguese is cabo eleitoral, or “electoral corporal”, meaning a person hired by a political party with two main purposes: getting party affiliates before the campaigns and getting voters during the campaigns.

[2] The PSDB’s symbol is a toucan. For that reason, the members of this party are also called tucanos.

Translated from its original by Yasmin Scheufler, member of DemocraciaAbierta's Volunteer Program.

About the authors

Humberto Dantas é doutor e mestre em Ciência Política pela Universidade de São Paulo (USP), com graduação em Ciências Sociais (USP). Coordena o curso de pós-graduação em Ciência Política da FESP-SP e é docente em dez programas de pós-graduação

Humberto Dantas es doctor y máster en Ciencia Política por la Universidad de Sao Paulo (USP), con una graduación en Ciencias Sociales (USP). Coordina el curso de pos graduación en Ciencia Política de la FESP-SP y es profesor en diez programas de pos graduación.

Leandro Monteiro. Graduado em Ciências Econômicas pela Universidade Federal de Goiás e aluno do programa de Liderança e Gestão Pública do Centro de Liderança Pública - CLP. Atua como consultor em gestão e cientista  de dados.

Leandro Monteiro es graduado en ciencias económicas por la univesridad Federal de Goiás y alumno del programa de Liderazgo y Gestión Pública del Centro de Lidreazgo Público - CLP. Actúa como consultor en gestión y como analista de datos.

Leandro Monteiro. A graduate in economic sciences at the Federal University of Goiás and a student of Leadership and Public Managing at the Centro de Lidera´ça Pública CLP. He works as a managing consultant and a data analyst.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.