Politics in Brazil Early kick-off: Is Dilma the same as Lula?

Politics in Brazil

Early kick-off

From The Economist


The 2014 presidential campaign gets under way

A CAMPAIGN that officially lasts just three months should mean that Brazil’s next presidential election, due in October 2014, feels far away. In fact it seems almost imminent. On February 16th Marina Silva, who came third in 2010 as the Green Party’s candidate, launched a new party, the Sustainability Network, thus declaring her intent to run again. Three days later the president, Dilma Rousseff, announced increased welfare payments to 2.5m poor Brazilians in a speech widely interpreted as launching her bid for a second term. The main opposition, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), is considering primaries that its bigwigs have designed to bolster Aécio Neves, their preferred candidate. Eduardo Campos, the governor of Pernambuco state who heads a fast-growing centrist party, is mulling a run, too.

Ms Silva’s “Network”, as the new party’s supporters call it, will impose term limits on its representatives and turn away dodgy donations and members. It hopes to appeal to both greens and voters fed up with politics as usual. It is turning to social media to whip up the 500,000 signatures it needs by October if it is to field a presidential candidate. It is likely to succeed: Brazilians are among the world’s most prolific users of Facebook and Twitter.

Even so, Ms Silva will struggle to match the 20m votes she garnered in 2010. A child of illiterate rubber-tappers and a founding member of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), she seemed a more natural heir to the ex-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former machine operator, than did the unknown, middle-class Ms Rousseff. To others, Ms Silva was more appealing than the PSDB’s stale presidential offering of José Serra, who had run and lost before. Next year Ms Rousseff will have the advantage of incumbency, and her other challengers, not Ms Silva, will be the fresher faces.

In Mr Neves’s favour is a famous surname (his grandfather Tancredo was elected president in 1985 but died before taking office), good looks, charisma and two successful terms as governor of Brazil’s second-most populous state, Minas Gerais. But he has yet to show the mettle for a tough fight. In 2010 he positioned himself to run, only to shy away as Ms Rousseff’s support grew in the polls. In May he is expected to become his party’s chairman and start campaigning, supporters say.

Mr Campos came to national prominence with his party’s strong showing in municipal elections last October. He belongs to Ms Rousseff’s governing coalition, but Brazilian coalitions are temporary affairs. He may decide to wait until 2018. But running next year would raise his profile outside his north-eastern power base.

Since Lula stepped down in 2010 there has been speculation that he would run again in 2014. (Brazil allows any number of terms but only two consecutively.) But a bout of cancer, now in remission, the fallout from last year’s mensalão vote-buying trial involving his government, and Ms Rousseff’s popularity make that unlikely—unless she stumbles over the next year. In March he sets off on a national lecture tour. The topic—how Brazil improved under the PT—seems designed to drum up support for Ms Rousseff’s campaign.

Ms Rousseff could try to neutralise Mr Campos by offering him the vice-presidency—but that is already promised to a bigger coalition partner. Or Mr Neves and Mr Campos could team up—but neither appears interested in second billing. Both have been wooing Ms Silva—but the launch of the Network suggests she is also looking for the top job. All three will probably run. But Ms Rousseff, a popular incumbent, will be the one to beat.

Published by Janar Wasito

Janar Wasito is the manager of Magis Capital in San Diego, CA. He is a graduate of Harvard and Stanford Law School, and a former Marine Officer.

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