An Analysis of a Tremendous Victory in Brazil

By Julio Cesar Casarin Barroso Silva (for Safe Democracy)

Julio Cesar Casarin Barroso Silva examines the elections in Brazil and explains what unknown policies await the country after Lula’s overwhelming victory. Ruling out the possible radicalization of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, Casarin Barroso believes that it will be necessary to wait and see if Lula will be able to spur economic development and implement urgent income redistribution measures in one of the most unequal societies on the planet.

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.

ON OCTOBER 29TH, PRESIDENT LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA of the Worker’s Party was reelected with 61 percent of the votes to another four years in office.

He obtained 58 million votes, an all-time record in Brazil. His adversary, rightist Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, has less reason to boast: he acquired less votes in the second round than he did in the first (39 and 42 percent respectively). Of the 27 governors of state elected, 17 are allies of the Worker’s Party.

And keeping in mind the fact that for the past year and a half Lula’s government has been under constant bombardment by the press, his overwhelming re-election and the increased power of his party is even more noteworthy.

Some of the causes of Lula’s victory have already been discussed in this forum. Distrust of the neo-liberalism of the opposition candidate drove many social and progressive intellectual movements –old allies of the Worker’s Party who had distanced themselves from the administration during Lula’s mandate– back to the support of the President. Lula’s social programs also helped to consolidate the endorsement of the poor.

But there were other factors as well: the main one being Lula’s dominion over the political agenda in this second round. As is widely known, controlling the agenda brings unquestionable electoral victory, and Alckmin was ill prepared to present viable political strategies. In almost every aspect of policy the opposition candidate was obligated to defend himself against allegations that he intended to halt the government’s social programs and privatize public enterprises. Alckmin denied such policy decisions to no avail.

Yet everyone knows that from 1995-2002, when Alckmin’s party was in control of government, practically all public enterprises were privatized. The deterioration of borrowing services and the excessive increase of tariffs that resulted made these privatizations extremely unpopular, and the Worker’s Party was quick to exploit this public resentment. From the onset of the campaign, Lula accused Alckmin of planning to privatize Brazil’s remaining public banks and successful gas company Petrobras.

Alckmin was trapped: unable to convince voters of his motivations, and weakened within his own party where many expected him to defend the privatization policies.

And the welcomed increase in political debate during the last few weeks before the elections, only served to clarify differences between the candidates even more, distinguishing the two in their views on the role of the state in reducing poverty, and making foreign policy. While Lula defended a south-south alliance, emphasizing the need to strengthen bonds with Brazil’s Latin American neighbors, Alckmin proposed returning to a privileged relationship with the United States. Their dissimilarities had a remarkable impact on the elections.

Yet, despite losing the presidency, the PSDB conquered state governments by a significant margin, consolidating itself as an important opposition group. The Liberal Front Party, inheritor of Brazil’s authoritarian past, suffered the worst defeat of all, electing only one governor and losing all of its seats in parliament.

How the opposition will react to its defeat, and how the government will act since its newfound victory, remain to be seen. Some members of the PSDB are calling for a third round: a radicalization in its activities, which would Venezuelize the political environment in Brazil.

PSDB’s elected governors, meanwhile, are openly opposed to such a radicalization. They need to maintain open channels of communication with the federal government in order to be able to govern their respective states successfully.

As for Lula’s government, we will have to wait and see whether the re-instated administration will be able to institute a new policy of economic development, capable of producing significant growth (the country is growing very slowly), to expand its social agenda, and to put into place urgent measures for the redistribution of income in one of the most unequal societies in the planet.

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