It was a big weekend for elections, so today and tomorrow we’ll look at what happened.
The biggest one first: the first round of Brazil’s presidential election was closer than expected. The opinion polls had said that left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would come close to the 50% mark and that (assuming he fell short) he would take a lead of around ten points into the second round (see my preview here).
The first part was correct: with results now final, Lula has 48.4% of the vote, tantalisingly close to a first-round victory. But his margin is only a little over five points, or about 6.18 million votes; far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro surprised observers to score 43.2%, when almost all the polls had put him below 40%. Only the GEHSC election tracker picked the late swing.
Centre-right candidate Simone Tebet is a distant third with 4.2%, followed by the centre-left’s Ciro Gomes on 3.0% – both underperformed their polls, suggesting the voters were doing their best to avoid a runoff. Another seven candidates have 1.2% between them. Turnout was 79.0%, similar to the last two years.
Bolsonaro led for much of the count, since his strongest areas, rural districts in the south, were the first to report. Lula gradually overtook him and looked for a time as if he might reach 50%, but his performance in the big cities let him down: Bolsonaro carried both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo by convincing margins, although Lula built up big majorities in the northern states.
The parallel with the 2020 United States election is quite striking. In each case the controversial incumbent exceeded expectations and looked a possible winner in early counting, only to fall behind by a still substantial margin. But in the US that margin was then fed into the bizarre mechanism of the electoral college; Brazil, however, gets to do it all again in four weeks time, on 30 October.
Polls have consistently shown Lula positioned for victory in the runoff by double-digit margins, but hypothetical polling is tricky at the best of times and with their poor performance today many will be sceptical. And if Bolsonaro, now with a morale boost, is minded to try to defy an adverse electoral verdict [link added], he has another four weeks to prepare his ground.
Latvia voted in a parliamentary election on Saturday (see my preview here). The result is a very poor advertisement for the 5% threshold (a feature that Latvia shares with several countries, including Germany and New Zealand). Seven parties cleared it to win representation (official results here), but another six fell between 3% and 5% – one of them, the liberal Development/For!, having 4.97% and missing out by just 250 votes.*
This means that the parties in parliament will represent only about 71% of voters, with the rest missing out. Among them are the party that topped the poll last time, the Social Democrats, who this time, discredited by their ambiguous stance towards Russia, fell to ninth place on 4.8%. The Latvian Russian Union on 3.6% also fell short, but a new party representing the ethnic Russian community, For Stability!, made it across the line with 6.8%.
Three parties from the previous parliament made it back, two of them participants in the outgoing government: New Unity (formerly just Unity), the centre-right party of prime minister Krišjāņis Kariņš, which comfortably topped the poll with 19.0% of the vote (up 12.3%) and 26 of the 100 seats (up 18), and the right-wing National Alliance with 9.3% (down 1.7%) and 13 seats (unchanged). The third is the Union of Greens & Farmers, which took second place with 12.4% (up 2.5%) and 16 seats (up five).
So the government will need to draw in another 12 seats for a majority. Aside from the Greens & Farmers, which Kariņš appeared to rule out before the election, the only realistic option is the United List, a combination of regionalists and Greens, which attracted 11.0% (up 6.8% on the regionalists’ performance last time) and won 15 seats. The Progressives (centre-left) would also be a good fit for the government but would not be enough on their own: they managed 6.2% (up 3.5%) and ten seats.
Expect some tough bargaining, but the almost certain outcome will be the return of Kariņš as prime minister and the continuation of a solidly pro-Ukraine policy.
* Technical note: It’s actually worse than that, because the electoral commission calculates the percentages without factoring out the informal votes – invalid ballots are excluded, but not blank ballots. If you exclude them as well, as is more common practice, Development/For! has 5.03%.
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