2014 Elections

Sergio Fausto, O Estado de S. Paulo, 2/28/2014

Challenges abound for the next presidential term.  There are several symptoms indicating that the “new development model,” the “new paradigm of the political economy,” or all the other pompous names one wishes to assign to the policies of the current government, have not produced the expected results. There is a widespread feeling both here and abroad that we are improvising and kicking the can down the road. For how long will this last?

Given this situation, the following question is raised:  Will the candidates for the Presidency present political platforms that allow the voter to understand their vision with regards to these challenges and learn about the political choices each one intends to make to address them? Or  will we once again watch, as per the norm in recent disputes, a campaign devoid of programmatic content, reduced to propaganda based on real or alleged personal  positive attributes of the candidates and vague proposals of distributing more benefits (fancifully without costs and without sacrificing any other desirable goal)?

It is true that political platforms must be translated into more accessible language to ordinary voters, and that in order for a campaign to be successful, it must mobilize feelings around a simplified driving idea. Or such is the conventional political wisdom in Brazil. This notion, however, not only inhibits voters from being more informed, but also weakens the mandate of the government elected by the voters.

When marketing replaces public debate, the elected government hardly signals the way forward. If on the one hand it is granted a blank check, on the other hand, it finds itself lacking the political legitimacy that only a more programmatic mandate can provide.

In this context, the electoral process loses its double function of engaging the voters in substantive debate on policy choices (part of the education for the exercise of citizenship), and of holding the government elect accountable for the implementation of platforms presented.

If the accountability generated through the electoral process were greater, programmatic issues would have greater weight in president elect and parties negotiations to build his/her parliamentary majority . Today these negotiations are done exclusively on the basis of trading congressional support for positions within the executive branch.

Confrontation of different platforms during elections is not the panacea for all the imperfections of the Brazilian democracy, but it is an essential condition to strengthen the link between the preferences of the electorate and the political choices of the President elect.  If this confrontation takes place it would strengthen the presidential mandate, with no harm done to the system of checks and balances that limits presidential ambitions. I will turn to an example to illustrate my point.

Recent elections in Chile led to the reelection of Michelle Bachelet to the Presidency. She presented a well-articulated program of government to the electorate. She pledged to expand public higher education and put an end to the electoral system that restricts the participation of smaller parties, virtually forcing a tie between the left and the right within the Chilean Congress.  To finance free higher education, Bachelet proposed an income tax increase on businesses equivalent to 3% percent of GDP. She stated what she planned on doing, explained where she would draw funds from, and garnered the support of most voters to follow through with her proposals. The coalition of parties that support Bachelet also got enough seats in Parliament. Bachelet’s government is committed to higher education reform and will be held accountable for it. The same goes for the electoral reform.

In Brazil, candidates often seek to associate themselves with ideas that lead to immediate intuitive understanding, and tend to hide behind generalizations that do not displease any significant part of the electorate. For specific audiences, proposals are “customized”, and the end result is often internally inconsistent: competitive exchange rate for industry, higher real wages for workers, more resources for the Bolsa Familia Program (conditional cash transfer program) and for interest rate subsidies for companies that have access to BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) funding, and also to borrowers through the Minha Casa, Minha Vida Program, and so forth… adding to an infinite amount of benefits.

There are both structural and historic reasons behind the weakness in the formation of the electoral nexus in Brazil. The country is regional and socially very heterogeneous; the bulk of the electorate is still relatively uneducated; political parties are numerous and not programmatic, etc. None of this, however, exempts candidates and party leaders in the country from the responsibility of presenting and committing to political platforms that are reasonably credible and consistent for the next presidential term.

Governing is about making choices, said Pierre Mendès-France, a great French politician who served as minister and later become an opponent to De Gaulle. Choices have to be made so that the increasing difficulties faced by Brazil can be overcome in the next presidential term:  Will we further open our economy, will we keep Mercosur as it is, will we resume discussions on pension reform, will we create a law for limiting the expansion of current spending, will we confront the regressive tax system, will we prioritize renewable energy?

The candidates and their respective parties have the obligation to be clear about the choices they intend on making if elected, on these and many other issues. It is the responsibility of the press and the society to hold them accountable for complying with this duty.

*Sergio Fausto is the Executive Director of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Institute (iFHC), regular contributor to the Latin American Program at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University, and member of Gacint-USP.

To read original article in Portuguese click here.

Translated by Carolina Cardenas

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