The evolving configuration of the October 2010 Elections

Brazil Institute director Paulo Sotero on the outlook of the race to choose Lula’s successor

On September 9th and 10th, the”Trade and Investment in the Americas” Conference sponsored by the Corporatión Andina De Fomento (CAF), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Inter-American Dialogue, brought together experts to debate where Latin America stands “post” global crisis. In talking about the future of Latin America, all of the speakers indicated that Brazil has made significant accomplishments in reaching a new level of influence over the global world. The director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Brazil Institute, Paulo Sotero, elaborated on the upcoming 2010 elections in Brazil during the 90-mine session.

Brazil’s next presidential elections will be a crucial event for  a country that has raised its international profile considerably under the Lula administration. Paulo Sotero started his talk explaining how Brazil has been building its democracy for the last twenty-five years,  a process  which has included both frustrations and accomplishments. In the last fifteen years, the steps taken to strengthen democracy have followed a continuous path.  First, Fernando Henrique Cardoso stabilized the economy and moved on the reform of the overbearing Brazilian state apparatus.  President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has continued to strengthen the policies of economic  stabilization while simultaneously and aggressively expanding social programs such as   Bolsa Família.

The 2010 elections will probably not lead to radical changes in the macro policies of the federal government   Two hot topics will be management capacity  and regulatory framework– including of Lula’s newly proposed rules to govern the country’s potentially huge pre-salt oil reserves.

With Lula’s astounding approval rating of 70% in his seventh year, one would believe that Dilma Rousseff, the likely candidate of Lula’s Worker’s Party (PT), would have a great chance at wining the 2010 elections in a polarized campaign between her and the current Governor of São Paulo, José Serra, from the opposition party PSDB. Initial polls, however,  have not supported that belief. Instead, Serra, who ran against Lula in the 2002 elections and lost, has led consistently initial polls.  Dilma Rousseff never ran for elective office. Sotero jokes that both of these candidates have one thing in common, which Brazilian are not used to: Neither are very charismatic.

However, the election story does not end there. Recent corruption scandals involving, among others,  the President of the Senate and the Congress ,  José Sarney (PMDB), who was president of the Republic from 1985 to 1989, have complicated the scenario. Sarney’s political party holds significant weight in the legislature and, due to the country’s electoral law, the party has access to most of the free time on radio and television allocated for elections campaign advertisement, making the PMDB a crucial ally for any presidential candidate.  This, plus the need to preserve a viable support base in Congress,  has put the PT in a very  uncomfortable situation from which they have not found a good escape.  Some of PT senators made public their disapproval of President’s efforts to protect Sarney.

The former Minister of Environment, and current senator from the state of Acre, Marina Silva, decided that Lula’s   “real politik”  moves to preserve the alliance with the PMDB was too much for her and left the party, saying it had lost its ethics bearings. She has since joined the Green Party e announced her intention to run for the presidency in next year’s election. Marina Silva’s decision altered significantly the configuration of the 2010 race for Palácio do Planalto. Her announcement encouraged two others, former senator Heloísa Helena, from the PSOL, also a former PT member,   and congressman Ciro Gomes, from the PSB, who supports president Lula,  to also state their desire to run in the next election. Now instead of a plebiscite between a man (José Serra)  and a woman  (Dilma Rousseff) candidate,  Brazil may have an open race with two male and three female candidates, all of them from the social-democrat/socialist side of ideological spectrum. The first round of election is scheduled for October 3rd. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes, a second round will be held on October 31st between the two top candidates of the first round.

What will this election mean to Brazil and the rest of Latin America? Brazil’s global relationships will be tested. Sotero states that Brazilians have always had a problems  picturing their country as part of “Latin America,” and thus have never has fully incorporated in their mental map of the world the fact that they have ten immediate neighbors. Although this started to change after democratization in 1985 and growing flow of immigrants in both directions ( poor economic immigrants from Paraguay and Bolivia to Brazil, middle-class Brazilian farmers in Paraguay and Bolivia), it remains a challenge to formulate foreign policy strategies for South America in a country where the large majority of  citizens feel  distant and is not particularly interest in their neighbors, with the exception of Argentina. As Brazil moved from representing around 40% of the economy of South America in 1980 to close to 60% now, the country’s leadership has gradually assumed and inevitable and necessary  leadership role in the region.  Business relations play a particular role in strengthening the regional ties. Brazil will witness a more nuanced relationship with the United States, but that may  also depend on what the Obama administration will be able to accomplish over the coming years. The next president will inherit the government of a country recognized today as a player – and a positive player – in the world affairs.  He or she will have to deal with athe increasingly  complex and challenging reality of Brazil’s relations with the immediate neighbors. More broadly, Lula’s successor will have a role to play in the still evolving G20 process. Sotero said that a Dilma Rousseff administration would continue Lula’s foreign policy, while a Serra administration would likely pull back some and adopt a more more selective posture on issues and initiatives, concentrating relatively more energy and talent in domestic issues associated with quality of governance, which are central to sustain growth at home   and foster Brazil’s interest and leadership abroad. He conclude by saying that, despite prediction of a return to robust economic growth next year, whoever succeeds Lula on January 1st 2011 will have to deal with the consequences of the fast expansion of  current expenditures in the federal administration, which is likely to continue to accelerate in an election year.  “Next year election will not bring a dramatic change of policies in Brazil, but 2011 is shaping up as a difficult year , one that will test the management capacity of the next president very early in his or her term”, Sotero said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s