October 28, 2008
By John Fitzpatrick
The humiliating defeat of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s candidate in the São Paulo mayoral vote is being treated with glee by the anti-Lula media which is painting it as a setback for him. This is wishful thinking as Lula still enjoys massive popular support and the defeat was more of a rejection of the Workers Party (PT) candidate, Marta Suplicy, who is detested by a large section of the electorate. The real winner was not the incumbent, Gilberto Kassab of the DEMs, but the state governor, Jose Serra, who backed him against the wishes of a section of his own PSDB party. Kassab’s victory paves the way for Serra to target the Planalto Palace after Lula steps down. In fact, the São Paulo contest may well have been a forerunner of the 2010 election with Serra pitted against another woman candidate backed by Lula, Dilma Rousseff.
Another victor may have been the DEM party which used to call itself the PFL and originated in the ARENA party which backed the military. When democracy was restored, the PFL tried to position itself as a center-right party which supported free market policies. It failed in ideological terms since there is little appeal for this message in Brazil even among right-wing parties which are strongly nationalist and in favor of a strong role for the state. The party was also closely identified with Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhes who died last year and the northeastern state of Bahia which he dominated for almost 50 years as an old-style autocratic boss. Despite this background, the PFL has always had a good relationship with the PSDB which is a social democratic party. The PFL even provided Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s vice president during his two terms in office – a Northeasterner called Marco Maciel.
The DEMS aim to use Kassab’s four-year term to build up a power base and become a national force. Whether this will work is doubtful as Kassab is seen in many quarters as being almost a puppet of Serra. Some reports say he even wanted to join the PSDB but agreed to stay put at Serra’s command. At the same time, Kassab has little dynamism and if there had been a stronger candidate facing him he might not have won. His victory was due to a combination of antipathy for Marta Suplicy from voters who blamed her for high taxes and poor services during her administration plus an incompetent campaign by the PT which tried to insinuate that Kassab was a homosexual. One particularly inept TV slot targeted his background and raised questions such as Is he married? Does he have children?” as though being unmarried and childless ruled anyone out of politics.
Returning to Serra, he will now have to win over the faction within the PSDB that was annoyed with him for ditching the PSDB candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, for Kassab. This should not be a problem as Serra is now the one of the strongest politicians in São Paulo. A tougher task will be to entice the PMDB, which did well in the elections and (narrowly) won Brazil’s second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro, where its candidate, Eduardo Paes, made much of the message of support he received from Lula. Although the PMDB officially supports Lula’s government, it was also a member of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s governments. It is more interested in sitting at the top table than having the presidency itself and if it feels that Serra is a winner then it would not hesitate to ditch the PT and return to a PSDB-led government. The same goes for a number of the smaller parties which back Lula.
In any case, the presidential election is not usually seen as a contest between parties but individuals and much will depend on the PT’s choice of candidate. At the moment this looks like being Lula’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff. Despite being Lula’s favorite, Rousseff has no political experience and is unknown among the general public. The PT may decide that a heavyweight would be a better choice and opt for someone like Jaques Wagner, the governor of Bahia, or the justice minister, Tarso Genro. One long-standing PT member who will not be called up to dispute the presidential election is Marta Suplicy although, who knows, we might see her returning to the federal government as a minister or stand for the state governorship elections in two years time.
One final point, there is still a long way to go to 2010 and, given the present financial and economic volatility, it would be unwise for Serra to take anything for granted. Lula might find that the last two years of his presidency will be devoted to coping with the fallout of a world recession which could hammer Brazil and overturn all the benefits of recent years. This could lead to him throwing caution to the winds and turning his back on the “neo-liberal” policies hated by leftists in the PT and returning to its traditional policies of raising government spending, ignoring inflation and sending Brazil back to the bad old days. In circumstances like this the next election could become a battle between a social democrat like Serra and a socialist like Rousseff where ideology rather than personality plays a big part. In this case, Serra could face a tougher battle than he might imagine at the moment.
John Fitzpatrick 2008
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:
Looking for Brazil’s Moon Under Water
Brazil’s Lula Finally Stops Playing the Blame Game
Brazil: Coming Up – Serra versus Dilma?
Brazil Becomes Middle Class but Not Bourgeois
Where is Brazil’s Barack Obama?
Brazil: Lula Loses Some of His Moral Luster
Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!
Brazil: Lula Loves Investment Grade – Whatever That Is
There’s No Business Like Oil Business – in Brazil Anyway
Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?