“Marcelo Crivella got there. After three years in office, he has officially become Rio’s most unpopular mayor in recent decades,” columnist Bernardo Mello Franco wrote in the Rio de Janeiro-based Brazilian daily O Globo on 15 December. This crushing assessment was based on the results of a Datafolha poll, published in full the following day, which put Crivella’s disapproval rating at 72%.
Crivella, a former evangelical bishop, was elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 on the wave of dissatisfaction and political conservatism that followed the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). His stint as mayor of Brazil’s most emblematic city has been anything but smooth, and he has already survived several impeachment proceedings. Recently, his standing slid even further following a series of gaffes, including his response to the paralysis of 24 municipal health centres as workers protested a delay in salary payments.
“There is no crisis – it’s false,” Crivella said in a video published online on 12 December. The municipal health sector workers, who had been protesting since 10 December to demand the payment of salaries delayed by two months, no doubt disagreed. So too, it seemed, did most of the Rio city inhabitants surveyed for the Datafolha poll, which was carried out between 11 and 13 December. As many as 68% cited health as the city’s principal problem, compared with 27% in October 2017 (violence/security was the second biggest concern, for 12%).
Crivella himself approached the federal government in Brasília last week for help, and on 13 December the federal health ministry released R$152m (US$37.3m) in emergency assistance for Rio city’s health sector, specifically for the payment of salaries. The municipality received a first instalment of R$76m immediately, with the balance due in January.
Yet a few days later, on 16 December, a municipal resolution suspended all the treasury’s activities until further notice. In practice this means that salaries for all municipal public workers, including the second instalment of the so-called ‘13th salary’ bonus that was due to be disbursed on 17 December, cannot be paid. Even before this setback, health workers had said they would only return to work once their salaries had entered their bank accounts.
Looking to 2020
Crivella’s high rejection rates and one-digit approval rating (8%) do not bode well for his prospects in next year’s municipal elections, in which he is expected to seek a second term. Notably, his support is low even amongst the demographic he represents: evangelical Christians. Approval of Crivella amongst evangelicals stands at 14%, while rejection remains high at 56%.
Next October’s mayoral election is still a while off. But in all three scenarios proposed by Datafolha, Crivella representing the Republicanos party comes a distant third with 8-9% of voting intentions, trailing his centrist predecessor Eduardo Paes (Democratas, DEM) and leftist federal deputy Marcelo Freixo (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Psol).
Crivella is expected to seek help from President Jair Bolsonaro to bolster his image. Unlike Crivella, Bolsonaro still holds the support of the evangelical voters who carried him to the presidency. However, Bolsonaro has not yet given any indication of where he will distribute his political capital next year, and with the municipal elections taken as a measure of support for the federal government, he will likely be cautious when doing so and choose to back strong candidates.
Jerusalem trade office
On 15 December President Bolsonaro’s government inaugurated a new trade office for its exports and investment promotion agency (Apex) in Jerusalem, Israel. Since becoming president, Bolsonaro has gone back on plans to transfer the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, faced with the risk of a backlash to Brazil’s trade with Arab countries. But his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal deputy who attended the opening ceremony of the Apex office in Jerusalem, insisted that the transfer of the embassy was still on the cards.
Marcelo Crivella came under fire for banning journalists from the Grupo Globo media group from the press conference during which federal health sector aid to the municipality of Rio de Janeiro was announced on 13 December. The mayoral office told news site UOL that Globo did not practice “serious journalism” and acted like a “political pamphlet”. Globo’s media outlets had been reporting on bed shortages in hospitals and delayed health sector salaries. The media group condemned Crivella’s “antidemocratic and authoritarian attitude.”