Cablegate: Brazil: Center-Left Presidential Candidates Compete For


DE RUEHBR #1407/01 3431132
R 091132Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/09
SUBJECT: Brazil: Center-Left Presidential Candidates Compete for
Small Party Support

CLASSIFIED BY: Lisa Kubiske, Charge D'Affaires; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (SBU) Summary. While the gap between front-running
presidential candidates Jose Serra (PSDB) and Dilma Rousseff (PT)
appears to be tightening, parties within President Lula's PT-led
governing alliance are quietly considering other options besides
supporting Dilma. Ciro Gomes (PSB) entered the presidential race
with Lula's blessing as an additional voice against Serra, but PT
and PSB are currently in a behind-the-scenes battle to win the
support and television time of five smaller parties in the
governing coalition. With adequate support, Ciro could seriously
rival Dilma's efforts to attract the center-left vote, especially
in Lula's northeastern base, where she has thus far been
underperforming. The odds of PSB succeeding in cobbling together
this coalition still appear considerably less than 50-50, however.
Meanwhile, the center-right opposition Democratas (DEM) party, also
primarily based in the northeast, may be seriously hurt by a
high-profile corruption scandal revolving around Federal District
(Brasilia) Governor Jose Arruda. End summary.

Presidential Race State of Affairs


2. (SBU) As predicted by most local political insiders, the gap
between front-running Serra and PT's Rousseff appears to be
tightening somewhat; a late November CNT/Sensus poll indicates
Serra at 32 percent, Dilma with 22 percent, 18 percent for Ciro
Gomes, and PV candidate Marina Silva with 6 percent. The poll
confirms that both Serra and Dilma carry significant baggage.
Dilma maintains the highest voter "rejection rate" among serious
candidates; politicians from both sides concur that her stature was
not helped by statements made before and during the November
blackout. PT insiders hope Dilma's role leading the massive
Brazilian delegation in Copenhagen for climate change talks will
give her a significant boost. Serra must contend with an
environment in which half the electorate state they would never
vote for a candidate backed by former President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso (PSDB). The market for presidential candidate alternatives
to PT and PSDB continues to be strong.

Aligned with Lula, not PT


3. (C) Ciro Gomes, ostensibly in the race with Lula's blessing to
be an attack dog against Serra, has most effectively filled the
need for an alternative candidate by attracting the many voters and
politicians who support Lula but are suspicious of PT. (Ciro also
has been drawing some support away from Serra.) Lula still
maintains a strong connection with Ciro and PSB. In a recent
meeting with the Charge, Pernambuco Governor Eduardo Campos (PSB)
said that Lula, Dilma, Ciro and others (including himself) would
meet shortly in advance of the PT national convention in early
March, when Dilma is expected to announce her candidacy officially.
Campos made it clear that Ciro would step aside if asked to do so
by Lula at that time.

4. (C) Some PSB leaders see Ciro's rise mostly as an opportunity
to leverage Lula, while others foresee a strong Ciro presidential
candidacy up to the general election. Fernando Bezerra Coelho, a
leading Pernambuco state official and 2010 PSB candidate for
federal senate, told us that, as a price for Ciro stepping down, a
coalition of supporters could force Lula to withdraw support from a
weak Dilma candidacy and support a third candidate. He believes
that Governor Campos, who is especially close to Lula, could be
that candidate. Bezerra Coelho also spoke of the need to solidify
PT support for several PSB senate and governor candidates, the
strongest of whom are running against opposition bloc incumbents in
the northeast. (PSB's glaring weakness is in the federal senate,
where they hold only two seats.) In a December 2 conversation
with poloff, Senator Renato Casagrande (PSB-Espirito Santo)
outlined a more ambitious goal. He confirmed that PSB is in a
fairly heated behind-the-scenes battle with PT to secure the
support for Ciro from all the other smaller parties within the
governing coalition.

PSB, Small Parties and TV time


5. (C) Senator Casagrande outlined the central challenge facing
Ciro Gomes. With political advertising on television and radio
calculated based on the number of seats each party has in the
Chamber of Deputies, PSB earns minimal airtime based on having 28
of the 513 seats in the Chamber. The next largest parties within
Lula's governing coalition - PP, PDT, PTB, and PC do B - include
slightly over 100 more seats, which combined with PSB would almost
rival the 170 combined held by PT and the largest delegation in the
coalition, the PMDB. PSB has therefore been aggressively courting
these parties since October to gain their official support and
TV/radio time. The senator did not want to reveal too much detail
or sound overly optimistic about outfoxing Lula and PT, but hinted
that negotiations with some parties (PDT) were more advanced than
others. He also confirmed that, if Aecio Neves were nominated as
PSDB candidate instead of Serra, Ciro would stop his candidacy and
most of the party would support Neves.

6. (C) November conversations with representatives from the
recruited parties indicate support for the idea of backing Ciro but
have questions about the wisdom of doing so. A political advisor
for the conservative Progressive Party (PP), which holds the most
seats among the courted parties, told poloff that he is pushing his
party leadership to donate TV time to Ciro. He reasons that Ciro
is in excellent position to supplant PT in the north, given PSB's
strength in two major states, Pernambuco and Fortaleza, and the
weakness of PT in Bahia. The advisor said that most of the party's
elected representatives prefer Ciro, but that they are still
figuring out if there would be repercussions for breaking with
Lula. The PDT party deputy chair from the state of Goias told
poloff much the same thing. He even compared favorably the idea of
smaller parties joining to offset the power of PT and PMDB with
Brazil's strategy of allying with other emerging countries (like
India, South Africa) to balance the power of the United States and
the European Union. Most of these parties are considered more
conservative than PSB or Ciro, but are philosophically more
comfortable with PSB/Ciro than with PT/Dilma.

DEM disaster


7. (SBU) While PSB and Ciro Gomes make their case to be stronger
players on the national scene, the center-right opposition
Democratas (DEM) party, also based primarily in the Northeast,
faces a scandal that could darken their already-dimming prospects
on the national level. Jose Arruda, Governor of the Federal
District (Brasilia area), was caught on November 23 accepting
bribes on camera, as were many of his political supporters. While
most politicians caught on camera represented other parties, DEM
faces the brunt of the scrutiny as it prepares to kick its only
elected governor out of the party and office. DEM still has the
third-largest benches in both the Senate and House of Deputies,
despite a significant number of recent switches by its elected
officials to other parties. The fall of one of its only nationally
known figures outside the Northeast, considered a possible
vice-presidential candidate for Jose Serra, will further isolate
DEM. One DEM staffer told poloff that, "it's just too much of a
disaster to talk about now." More on this and the challenges
facing the Brazilian center-right will be reported septel.



8. (C) The fact that so many political insiders like the idea of a
Ciro candidacy (or an Aecio Neves candidacy) suggests significant
space for maneuver during the 2010 election season, including a
possible reshuffling of alliances. The vitality of smaller
political parties such as PSB and its prospective allies is
particularly interesting. In an environment where PT sans Lula is
not widely trusted, PSDB still suffers from negative public
perceptions of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, PMDB is associated with
Sarney and corruption, and DEM has its own growing corruption
scandal, smaller parties have potential to fill the vacuum and to
play a meaningful role in affecting Brazil's 2010 presidential,
gubernatorial, and congressional race outcomes. Nonetheless,
although Ciro Gomes and PSB hold a surprisingly strong hand right
now, President Lula's immense power to block ambitions of other
center-left presidential contenders means that efforts to unite the
smaller governing coalition parties behind Ciro and eventually
supplant Dilma as the center-left candidate remain a long shot.
End comment.

9. (U) This cable was coordinated with Consulate Recife.

© Scoop Media

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