Brazil presidency 2018
It is Election year again in Brazil this year and we have already had a Facebook promise to take down fake news pages (which prompted demonstrations outside FB offices claiming the pages were not fake!) so I wonder whether we might yet see a cleaning up of politics in this very politically corrupt country. I should say I am an Englishman married to a Brazilian woman for the last 7 years, so I have only seen one Presidential election close at hand. I have a permanent visa, through my marriage, but no residency, so I am not allowed to vote.
The final date for Presidential candidates to be nominated was last Sunday, 5th August. Despite there being over 30 actual political parties (proportional representation allows widespread fragmentation, but, sadly, does not prevent widespread corruption!) there are only 13 Candidates, some of them with several parties backing them.
What do we know so far?
The current 77 year-old President, Michel Temer, who came to power in what many people in Brazil see as a coup against Dilma Rousseff, for whom he was the Vice President, indicated earlier in the year that he was going to stand, but his approval ratings were in single figures and there were, and remain, a lot of question marks about his personal “cleanliness” from corruption. So, Temer is NOT standing and his party has rebranded itself from the PMDB, changing back to the Movimento Democratico Brasiliero – MDB – perhaps hoping to shake off the corrupt image, reverting to identify itself with the big-tent movement which emerged in 1979 after 14 years of military rule in Brazil.
The MDB candidate is Henrique Meirelles, who was Minister of the Economy under Temer from 2016 to 2018 and had been President of the Central Bank of Brazil 2003-2011. One of the quirks of Brazil, by the way, is that the “H” is not pronounced in a name and the “r” is pronounced as if it were an “h” so Henrique becomes Enheekay, sounding somewhat strange to the English ear.
Brazilian electoral law stipulates that television airtime must relate to the percentage of seats held by the candidate`s party plus any supporting coalition parties. Meirelles and the MDB therefore benefit from plenty of relative airtime, but, despite that, Meirelles has not yet made much impression on the electorate.
The same can be said of Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democrats) who has the backing of seven other smaller parties. Perhaps the reason he has made little headway, however, is that Aecio Neves, former head of the PSDB, and a candidate for President in 2014, has made too many bad headlines for the party as a recipient of huge bribes in the country`s corruption scandals, so the party`s deputies are all severely tainted.
Similarly, Alvaro Dias of the PODE group of three parties which go under the title of Podemos (Portuguese for “We Can”, an optimistic slogan if ever there was, as Barak Obama discovered!) has also managed to make no serious impact upon the electorate.
Small Party status.
Oddly, on the other hand, three of the front-runners in terms of impact, so far, do not have as much air-time on TV, because they represent smaller parties. Marina Silva was a Presidential candidate four years ago and came quite high in the popular vote but not high enough to make the second round of voting. She has left the party which she represented, which has been tainted with some corruption accusations (though none touching her personally) She has started a new movement the Sustainability Party (REDE) in a way along similar lines to the way President Macron did in France. We have yet to see if it can be as successful. As an environmentalist myself she would be my first choice by a long way.
In 2014, Marina, coming from an environmentalist background (she had been the Green Party candidate in 2010 getting 19% in the first round vote) was chosen as Vice-Presidential candidate by Eduardo Campos of the PSB (Brazil`s Socialist party). Campos was killed in a somewhat controversial plane crash in August 2014 and, in something of a hurry, Marina was then chosen by the PSB to be their official Presidential candidate. From that point on she was doing very well in the opinion polls and at one point was literally neck and neck with Dilma Rousseff, the eventual winner. However, her support fell away somewhat towards the last couple of weeks of the campaign and she slipped into a close third place to Aecio Neves, thus not making the second-round run-off with Dilma. (First round Dilma 40%; Neves 24%; Marina 22%)
Controversial right-wing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has chosen a retired general as his running mate, but the suggestion was not approved of initially by his Social Liberal Party (PSL). His political positioning, by the way, is neither Social nor Liberal in the English sense at all. I suppose it might be categorised as libertarian, in the sense that he seems in favour of (elite) individuals having plenty of freedom, particularly from the burden of paying taxes. He has been categorised in international articles as a sort of Brazilian Trump character, with typically right-wing disciplinarian intentions and a similarly misogynistic view of women.
The other candidate doing pretty well at the moment is Ciro Gomes of the PDT, Brazil`s Democratic Labour party. Considered as “centre-left” he comes from a family heavily engaged in politics (his father and Uncle as well as two siblings have all been elected officials). Gomes, known in Brazil simply as Ciro, seems well-liked and has had ministerial experience under Lula, as well as having a high profile as an academic with economic credentials.
Closely identified with his home state of Ceara in the North East of Brazil he has been the State`s Governor, as well as representing the state as its federal deputy from 2007-2010. As seems quite common in Brazil he has been a member of several parties over the years, as far as I can see at least seven different parties resting now in the PDT since 2015. Perhaps because of this he knows where quite a few of the bodies are buried?!
One of the largest political parties in Brazil, the PT (Workers’ Party), of former two-term president Lula and (one-and-a-half-term) Dilma Rousseff, is in an unusual position. PT has chosen former President Lula as its presidential candidate. Unfortunately for them, Lula is in prison at the moment for corruption and has therefore been ruled ineligible to run. As the Rio Times has pointed out, Lula “… leads in all polls, and his coalition will have a healthy amount of free air time. PT has decided former SP mayor Fernando Haddad will run if Lula is declared ineligible, but Haddad was so unpopular that he could not win re-election as mayor in 2016.”
The Party is appealing the ineligibility ruling and it is expected not to be finally sorted out until some time in September, with the first round of the election taking place in early October. Lula is still very popular and would probably win the popular vote if people voted tomorrow. What will happen over the next few weeks, however, is rather unpredictable, the final result probably depending upon the extent to which Haddad can make inroads as a credible candidate in his own right.
There is a very strong sense that voters would love to put the country`s corruption behind them, but it has to be said that corruption seems pretty endemic to the political system here and it is by no means clear whether the imprisonments of the worst culprits, Cunha, Cabral, Neves and the rest has cleared the dirt enough for people to be confident that the newly elected representatives and the new President will have enough “clean power” to keep mucking out the stables!
It will be interesting to see over the forthcoming weeks whether the appearance on television or their links on the internet prove to be the making or breaking of their campaigns. Personally, I am rooting for Marina to do better than she managed in 2014 and certainly hoping to goodness that Bolsanaro is not able to make any serious progress as a Brazilian Trump. I guess we will have to wait and see!