Julio Cesar Casarin Barroso Silva explains why the majority of analysts in Brazil view Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as an invincible candidate, certain to win the upcoming elections in the first round. In Casarin Barroso‘s opinion, the two main candidates, Lula and Geraldo Alckmin (of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party), have very similar stances on policy, especially on maintaining the macroeconomic policies of Cardoso‘s government. Yet despite their ideological similarities, neither the opposition candidate from the right, Geraldo Alckmin, nor from the left, Heloisa Helena, has a prayer in winning Brazil‘s Presidency.
Julio Cesar Casarin Barroso Silva is a political analyst and writes regularly on Brazilian and Latin American issues. He is currently working on his doctorate at the University of San Pablo where he received his master’s in Political Science.
WITH LITTLE TIME LEFT BEFORE BRAZIL’S NEXT ELECTIONS, the polls are showing a consolidation of the status quo. The general opinion is that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers Party (PT) will be reelected.
Not only will he be reelected, he will win in the first tour with more than an absolute majority of necessary votes. To the desperation of the opposition, Lula is not only in first place, he is gaining.
For those who have been following politics in Brazil during the last fifteen months, the outcome of the polls should be more than surprising. Since the beginning of the political crisis, in the middle of 2005, the President was bombarded in the press, accused of participation in (or omission of) a scandal to buy votes in Parliament, and illegal finance of campaigns. The scandal forced the resignation of some of Lula’s leading officials from his own party and of several political legends in the governing coalition.
So analysts everywhere are scratching their heads wondering, if Lula’s presidency has been marked by such an enormous scandal, what is supporting Lula’s popularity?
AN INVINCIBLE CANDIDATE
There are various factors to the President’s success. First are his social programs, mainly Beca-Familia, which pledges financial assistance to the poorest families in Brazil.
Millions of families have been helped by this program, which has contributed to reducing the rent concentration in the country. The program has also had a symbolic impact, identifying the President with the working class.
And perhaps most important of all, the economy has performed better under Lula than it did during the eight years of previous government, rendering Lula an invincible candidate.
THE FAILURE OF THE OPPOSITION
The opposition, meanwhile, has seen nothing but failure. On the right, the ex-governor of San Pablo, Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB (the Brazilian Social Democracy Party that governed the country for two terms before Lula), is a provincial politician with no charisma, and a technocratic discourse. And these are not his only disadvantages.
Amid accusations of religious fundamentalism, Alckmin has promised to push for more privatization and insists on promoting ethics in government. All of this coming from a candidate whose party was involved in scandals regarding the buying of votes in Parliament and advantageous privatizations.
Alckmin also proposes an agenda linked to US interests: primarily recommencing negotiations on the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas).
Also standing in Alckmin’s way are divisions within his own alliance. Alckmin asserted himself in his party only thanks to the hesitations of more favored candidate, Jose Serra. Many complain that Serra, who is better known on a national level, would have had better chances at winning.
HELOISA ON THE LEFT
On the left, Lula is facing off against an ex-party member, Senator Heloisa Helena, who was kicked out of the Worker’s Party for opposing Lula’s pro-market reform of Social Security. Heloisa upholds the reforms of the left that the President abandoned: audit of external debt and privatizations, amplified agrarian reform, the end of budgetary priority for the payment of public debt.
Through these reforms she is attempting to captivate those voters once faithful to the Worker’s Party but disappointed with the current government.
Despite being from different parties, Lula and Alckmin are united by their consensus on the macroeconomic policies of the previous government.
Before being elected Lula claimed to be opposed to these policies, and criticized them bitterly. But since his appointment, he has upheld them faithfully.
And curiously enough, the financial system, which benefits most from such policies, has been the biggest donor of resources for the political campaigns of both candidates.
Given the ideological similarities between Lula and Alckmin, we may be on the path of what the Brazilian sociologist Francisco de Oliveira called the irrelevance of policies.
A great challenge lies ahead for the young Brazilian democracy.