11 August, 2009

Scenario for Brazilian Presidential election in 2010 can change swiftly if former Environment Minister Marina Silva decides to run

Sergio Abranches

Senator Marina Silva, former Environment Minister has already made up her mind and is likely to leave the Worker’s Party (PT) and run for President on a Green Party (PV) ticket in 2010, that’s what we can infer from what her closer associates are saying.

The senator representing Acre, the westernmost state of the Amazon Region, resigned because of recurring conflict with the powerful Chief of Staff and Dilma Roussef’s, especially regarding road-building and hydroelectric plants in the Amazon Region. Minister Roussef was appointed by president Lula as the manager of his Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), a plan for public works with a strong focus on transportation and energy and severe environmental impact on the Amazon region. The president has several times showed his annoyance with his former Environment Minister’s requirements for licensing the larger Amazon projects. He called them “an environmentalist’s hindrance to progress.” Marina’s dissatisfaction peaked when Lula transferred to former minister of Strategic Affairs, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a Harvard Law professor, responsibility over his “Project for a Sustainable Amazon”. Mangabeira Unger, had no previous knowledge of Amazon affairs, and advocated several policy initiatives that found antagonism among environmentalists, and praise among ranchers and soybean producers in the region. After this decision, she resigned, and returned to her senatorial seat, where she has been highly critical of the government’s anti-environmental bias.

Meanwhile, minister Dilma Roussef became Lula’s ostensive candidate-to-be for the 2010 Presidential race. Lula and his political aides expected that minister Roussef would run a polarized contest against São Paulo’s governor, social-democrat José Serra. They see Serra as an enthusiast of the same approach to economic growth, and thought he would not be able to design a contrasting view and credible enough to confront the official candidate, defending very similar ideas.

The Green Party offer to Marina Silva and her apparent enthusiasm sounded as a sharp warning sign that something was going rather wrong with the government’s political plan. President Lula has immediately sent several emissaries to persuade her to remain on the party, and support Dilma Roussef’s candidacy. They seemed to have all failed.

One of them, former governor of the State of Acre, Jorge Vianna, a close friend to her, said this Sunday that he was still ‘quarantined’ and wasn’t making any comments on Marina Silva’s decisions because he and present governor Binho Marques, also a close friend to Marina, were going to talk to her one more time, reported Altino Machado, a journalist from Acre, after calling him personally. Governor Binho Marques issued a note saying that: “as a friend he was sympathetic, but as a governor he had to guard himself.”

Yesterday Marina Silva received a Honoris Causa Doctorate from the Federal University of Bahia. Bahia’s governor, Jaques Wagner (PT), a close friend to president Lula, was asked by reporters whether he tried her not lo leave the party. He answered that “Marina’s international and national projection have gone so far that none of us have the power to persuade her of anything anymore.” Everybody is taking it for granted that she has already decided to run.

This conviction has certainly been influenced not only by the private conversations they’ve been having with her, but also by her own words to her closer friends and family as journalist’s Altino Machado’s reports: after 32 hours of consultations and reflection, in Rio Branco, the capital city of her home state, she told them: “You don’t have to follow me, stay with PT.”

If all these signs are correct and Marina Silva do leave PT and start negotiating an electoral coalition to support her presidential candidacy, the scenario for Lula’s succession will immediately change. This candidacy has the power to radically alter the competitive structure of the game. Marina Silva has far more personal appeal – call it charisma if you like – than Dilma Roussef.

An illiterate until she was 16 years old, now holds a college degree. She spent her childhood making rubber, hunting and fishing to help her father support their large family. Her political education was on the social movements of the Amazon region, especially among the rubber-gatherers. She was a part of the independent rubber-gatherers union with Chico Mendes, murdered by ranchers in an attempt to halt their movement. She has a bio any political marketeer dreams of. She won the Goldman Environmental Prize for “grassroots environmental heroes,” in 1996, and this year’s Sophie Prize, from Norway, for “her courage, her creativity and her ability to forge alliances, but first and foremost for her battle to conserve the Amazon rainforest.”

The almost totality of Brazilian environmentalists, mostly PT and Lula’s voters, I asked over the last three days are highly enthusiastic about her candidacy. Several of them are looking forward to help her organize a mobilization campaign using the web social network, inspired on Obama’s.

According to sources in Rio Branco, president Lula has called former governor Jorge Vianna, and governor Binho Marques, for a meeting tomorrow, in Brasília, apparently to discuss what can still be done to prevent Marina from officially announcing a decision that appear to have already been subjectively made. If his efforts fail he will also be on dire straits to replace his present Environment Minister who already said will step down on March, to run for Legislative office. President Lula will have to appoint someone with as green credentials as Marina Silva’s and this person won’t be easy to find.

When she decides to run, she will also have a tough job ahead. The first task will be to attract other parties to join her on an electoral coalition, in order to increase her TV campaign time. Prime TV campaign time in Brazil is allotted free of cost to all candidates proportionately to the number of seats obtained in the previous election. The Green Party has a minimum portion. A coalition adds each party’s time, to give its candidate enough time to be competitive. Marina Silva could attract from one to three left-leaning mid-sized parties to her coalition. It won’t be easy, but it is clearly possible. After having ensured she will have enough time on TV during the campaign, she will have to design a political discourse that transcends environmentalism and widens her appeal, with a special eye on wage-earners, worried with their incomes and jobs; and the financial markets and business groups wary of her “leftism.”

Whether she will succeed in setting up a broader appeal time will say. For now, she has agitated the political realm like an Amazon tornado, coming from the waters of the Acre River, and she hasn’t even announced she’d decided to run.

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