01 October, 2009

Brazil prepares for the most competitive general elections in 15 years

The Brazilian electoral law has set October 3 as the deadline for those who want to run in the 2010 general elections to decide on their party affiliation.

Sérgio Abranches

Over the last few days several important announcements came from government authorities, business and political leaderships either choosing a party, or changing party affiliation.

The Chairman of the Brazilian Central Bank, Henrique Meirelles has announced his affiliation to PMDB yesterday. PMDB is the clientele-politics, pork-barrel, catchall party that presently holds the larger share of seats in both the House and the Senate. The party has a pivotal role in President Lula’s coalition. President Lula has tried to convince him not to reenter electoral politics next year. He had been elected a House member in the 2002 elections, before being invited to head the Central Bank. He didn’t even take the oath of office as a Representative.

Lula asked his Central Banker to wait for the victory of his presidential candidate Dilma Roussef, promising Meirelles a very important role in the new government. It seems Meirelles has more confidence on his own electoral chances in his home state, than on the Ms. Roussef’s, who has been handpicked by Lula himself. Knowing that he was decided to get a party affiliation “to let the door open to a future candidacy”, President Lula asked him to join PMDB. Meirelles said he will annouce next March whether he will leave the Central Bank to run for office. He is expected to run for governor of this home-state, Goiás, or, alternatively, to seek a Senate seat.

Celso Amorim, Lula’s Minister for Foreign Affairs,  who masterminded the disastrous operation that led the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to host ousted president Manuel Zelaya, has announced his affiliation to the Worker’s Party (PT). President Lula is one of the founding fathers of PT. Mr. Amorim was formerly affiliated to PMDB, but has never participated in elections.

PT, however, has lost more affiliates than it acquired. PMDB is also losing several important regional leaderships. Both parties are paying a high price for their protection to Senate’s Chairman, José Sarney (PMDB-AP), who has been charged of corruption and administrative wrongdoing during his tenure. Internal divisions regarding the party’s standing on the next presidential elections are also taking their toll from PMDB. Lula wants PMDB to support his candidate and offer the name for Vice-president on her ticket. But several party leaders are supporting São Paulo governor José Serra’s bid.

The most celebrated wave of affiliations involved the small Brazilian Green Party (PV). Former Environment Minister and Amazon Icon, Marina Silva, has joined the party last month, to run for the Presidency. Yesterday, several important business leaders, all well known for their support of sustainable business and social and environmental corporate responsibility, have also jointed the party. They are all adhering to Marina Silva’s presidential candidacy, rather than to PV’s former platform.

The party is going through a thorough internal power shift determined by Marina Silva’s arrival. This sudden emergence of PV to the frontline has been correctly attributed to the “Marina factor”. She attracted Guilherme Leal, co-chairman of the board of cosmetics firm Natura, to the party as a possible vice-presidential nominee. Also joined PV the executive-director of Klabin, a Brazilian paper and pulp giant, who acts as CEO of the NGO SOS Mata Atlântica (SOS Atlantic Rainforest); Ricardo Young, CEO of the Ethos Institute, dedicated to promote corporate social responsibility and ethical management among Brazilian firms; Fernando Simões, CEO of Latin America’s largest handcrafted art paper mill, among several other affiliations. The party is likely to account for the greater share of new affiliations due to the “Marina factor”. The presence of well-known business leaders on her campaign will also help to  respond to fears that Marina Silva would adopt an anti-capitalist, green socialist agenda as a presidential candidate.

PV’s new affiliates represent a clear change of the party’s ideological outlook and a move towards a new and sharper identity. As British political scientist Anthony Giddens contends in his new book, “The Politics of Climate Change”, green is no longer the other shade of red. Several green parties, the German being the most noticeable case, have been created by former communists and socialists disillusioned with communism and dissatisfied with the conservative policies of social democratic parties. But now, they all have developed their own ideas, and a far better focused green view. They are becoming far more differentiated from socialist and social democratic parties, and proposing a new, broader, more systemic view of economy and society, having the climate change challenge, and the transition to a low carbon economy at the core of their new outlook. Green is no longer anti-capitalist, although being highly antagonistic to consumerism. The idea is to change capitalism, rather than to replace it with old socialist models.

The Chairman of FIESP, the Federation of São Paulo State Industry, once the country’s most powerful trade association, Paulo Skaff, joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). He  will probably run for governor of São Paulo. The party is likely to have Rep. Ciro Gomes as a presidential candidate. The latest polls show Ciro Gomes ahead of Lula’s candidate, Dilma Roussef, but still behind São Paulo governor, the social democrat José Serra (PSDB), who has been the forerunner on all polls until now.

These party shifts and new affiliations are pointing towards a very competitive, hard fought election in 2010, at all levels. The presidential election will probably be the most competitive of the last 15 years. Elections for the House and the Senate may likely have the greater number of contested (open) seats of the last 4 elections. State elections are also posed to be highly competitive all over the country. Democracy thrives on uncertainty, so does the risk of inevitable surprises.

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