Despite Adversity, Lula Favored to Win In October
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
MONITORING POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND DIPLOMATIC
ISSUES AFFECTING THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
Friday, August 25th, 2006
Press Releases, Brazil
Despite Adversity, Lula Favored to Win October Election
Incumbent President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva is campaigning for a second term in Brazil’s October 1 presidential election – a victory he does not deserve. This comes amidst mounds of political rubble, caused by the almost daily political scandals uncovered in the past few months, along with the barely containable outbreaks of violence in São Paolo. These blemishes, in conjunction with widespread accusations that Lula has all but separated himself from the left-leaning ideology that brought him into office, has led observers to speculate how the former shoeshine boy will work yet another miracle: his re-election.
Although COHA has been a consistent supporter of Lula since the 1980s, and even sponsored a visit to Washington, COHA must now sadly acknowledge that his presidency has turned out to be a grievous disappointment. In many respects, he has sold out to the dark forces he spent a lifetime opposing, and has only barely managed to escape the corruption scandals by means of his matchless and cultivated naïveté.
Despite these otherwise death-dealing challenges, a Teflon™ Lula has proven to be a survivor, using his now patented bear-hug approach to stare down a multitude of stygian revelations of corruption that swirl around him. Meanwhile, a recent Datafolha opinion poll shows that Lula does not have much to fear. The incumbent president from the leftist Worker’s Party (PT) is currently in the lead with approximately 49 percent supporting him in the polls. Geraldo Alckmin, the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate, follows with 25 percent, and Senator Heloisa Helena of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) lags behind with only 11 percent. Lula is expected to secure the majority of ballots on October 1, thereby winning in the first round and avoiding an October 29 run-off. Many observers are questioning how Lula has been able to maintain such a hold on the Brazilian populace during such tumultuous times, replete with rampant prison gangs on the lam and delinquent congressmen following suit. The answer lies in the economy, which has blinded nearly every citizen from the many other afflictions clouding Lula’s once glorious reputation.
The Rocky Road to Re-Election
Ongoing corruption and violence plaguing the country have taken their toll on the normally unflappable incumbent. Given his charismatic and effusive personality, it was a surprise when a nervous Lula made two accidental errors in his televised August 7 national address. First, he proclaimed that his government was committed to the fight against “ethics,” as opposed to “corruption.” Second, he stated that the only thing falling in Brazil were “wages,” rather than “inflation,” as he originally intended.
Lula’s opponents are capitalizing on his slips of the tongue, employing every means possible to paint him as a hypocrite and a coward. Just before the first presidential debate took place on August 14 over TV Bandeirantes, Lula’s opposition discovered that the president’s handlers had pulled him from the show, fearful that he would lose rating points under such a joint attack from the opposition. Alckmin briefly set aside his relaxed reputation and taunted the absent incumbent, proclaiming that Lula was “trying to escape” the debate. Helena added that she “cannot accept [Lula’s] arrogance, nor the fact that he thinks he is better than the other candidates, which he is not.” Helena, a former PT member, is especially critical of Lula’s ideological shift to the center; she has been one of his most vociferous critics since early in his presidency, when he started enacting market-friendly policies instead of delivering on the promised nationalizations of key industrial sectors. She was ejected from the party after criticizing its support of the Social Security Reform of the Civil Service Law, which passed in December 2003, despite years of assurances from Lula that no initiative would ever be taken on the issue.
Pointing out the discrepancies between Lula’s platform and his first-term record is not helping either candidate amass significant support. Further, neither challenger has elucidated their own plans for tackling the three issues on every Brazilian’s mind: violence, corruption, and the economy.
PCC’s Violent Reign
The Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) gang has brought terror to the streets and prisons of São Paulo, the financial capital of Latin America. Since May, the insurgent group has bombed banks, police department facilities, federal buildings and other targeted institutions, while demanding better conditions for their cohorts in federal correctional facilities. The rampant violence has brought embarrassment to Alckmin, the state’s former governor, who left the city last April to embark on his presidential campaign. In spite of receiving high performance ratings before taking his leave, many Brazilians are now looking to Alckmin for an explanation for the local violence. During his five-year governorship, Alckmin failed to address the crime problem or reform the already overcrowded prison system, but nevertheless, he insists that Lula is to blame. Alckmin alleges that Lula purposely withheld an earmarked federal allotment slated for the construction of high-security prisons, more protective police wear and added surveillance. Lula did offer to send troops to help Alckmin’s replacement, Claudio Lembo, combat São Paulo’s prison gangs. However, the current governor has curiously rejected the use of troops to quell the violence. If the violence worsens and no troops are dispatched to bring control to the city, the coalition uniting Alckmin’s PSDB and Lembo’s Liberal Front Party (PFL) will most likely be blamed for the explosive situation, augmenting the fact that Alckmin failed to eliminate the PCC insurgency that started this past May.
A Country Falls On Scandalous Times: Corruption Galore
A startling 25 percent of the 594-member Brazilian Congress is under some form of indictment right now, whether it be for the Mensalão campaign scandal that rocked Lula’s presidency last summer, or the broader Sanguessugas healthcare scandal that made headlines this past month. After the Mensalão scandal was uncovered, members of Lula’s “ethics” party were immediately placed under investigation for offering bribes to congressmen in exchange for their vote on legislative issues last year. Oddly enough, Lula escaped unscathed from the allegations, after an exhaustive few months of constant traveling and media exposure aimed at ensuring that Brazilians, and the world, be informed that he had taken punitive action against the guilty parties (of the 18 who were accused, three were expelled from Congress).
In a second political debacle, 72 congressmen were found in May to have scammed the social healthcare system. These high-ranking officials made arrangements with ambulance companies to pay for overpriced vehicles in their municipalities in exchange for a share in the profits. Many of the implicated congressmen are currently up for re-election, and a majority of them are aligned with Lula. As for the president himself, he managed to extricate himself from the negative press, keeping his ethical standing miraculously intact. It seems that most Brazilians can resign themselves to the ever-present corruption in the current administration, as long as a stable economy is providing them a favorable distraction.
Economy Trumps All
Unarguably, the clincher for Lula’s lead in the polls is Brazil’s economy. Lula has created 3.8 million jobs which, although falling short of the ten million he originally promised voters, have had a great impact on the lower classes by catering to minimum wage workers. Additionally, under Lula’s Bolsa Familia initiative, the first successful conditional cash transfer (CCT) program enacted in the country, the government allots a certain amount of money to impoverished families able to establish that their children are in school, have received vaccinations, and are under the care of a healthcare professional.
As the poor are seeing their standards of living rise, their votes that Helena’s socialist candidacy might have received are safely tucked in Lula’s pocket. With a 3.5 percent GDP growth projected this year and inflation dropping from 5.6 to 4.0 percent in the past twelve months, most Brazilians appear satisfied with the status quo.
And the Winner Is …
The more that Alckmin and Helena try to tear down Lula’s lower-class, left-leaning base, the more apparent it becomes that the masses are not listening. Lula is revered among the poorer, less-educated populace, especially in Brazil’s 20 northern, less-developed states; Alckmin’s support comes from the wealthier, more highly educated classes of the seven southern states. Helena’s largely college-educated and female supporters are not enough to qualify her as a viable contender, so unless Alckmin successfully courts votes in the less economically developed areas, Lula is sure to win in the first round. Both trailing candidates would be better served by articulating their own platforms instead of ganging up on Lula, who is currently developing his strategies to increase economic growth and combat crime. Perhaps a more pressing question than who will win the election, is what will happen afterwards?
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