Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is the PT Looking towards Obama's Model of Campaigning?

If the Brazilian presidential elections were held today, Serra of the right-center PSDB (Partido Social Democratico Brasileiro) would win, as he is well in front of runner-up Dilma Rousseff, of the PT, and in a run-off, would decimate her if the elections were held today.

However, the elections aren't held today, and, unlike in the U.S., the campaign won't really get going until 2010 begins. (I know, I know - campaigning only in the year of the election seems novel and strange in the United States, but there you have it), and a lot of factors could enter into the equation. Rousseff hasn't really geared up in campaigning yet, and Serra's numbers are in large part because he's a known name who's generally respected (he lost to Lula in 2002, before the PSDB swung even further right in the 2006 elections and being severely repudiated for that swing). Plus, there are always dark horse candidates, specifically former Minister for the Environment Marina Silva, who left her post last year. She is running next year for Brazil's Green Party (Partido Verde), and who is already causing a bit of a buzz with the possibility of being Brazil's first black president and woman president, which, in the wake of the wonder and marvel in Brazil at the U.S.'s election of Obama, may make voters a bit more emotional and wistful for their own "change they can believe in."

While Obama could hover over the elections vaguely as issues of politics, rhetoric, and racial identities play out in next year's elections, it turns out he's already having a more immediate impact on Brazil's 2010 elections. It seems the PT has contacted the firm responsible for Obama's internet campaign in a hopes of having them help the PT in getting the word out on the PT and on Dilma.

Leaders from the Workers Party met with Ben Self from the Blue State Digital agency, the brains and architect behind the successful digital publicity strategy displayed by president Obama during his 2008 campaign.

According to O’ Estado de Sao Paulo, Lula da Silva’s party is intent in mounting a propaganda strategy through Internet to promote the most certain presidential postulation of Dilma Rousseff, currently cabinet chief, and who Lula da Silva has virtually hand picked as his successor. [...]

Obama’s “on line” strategy has been closely followed by Lula da Silva and his advisors who last week inaugurated the president’s own blog with incredible success.

This is really interesting, and only in part because the PT is looking to Obama and the U.S. for lessons on how to employ newer technologies in elections. From a Brazilianist's standpoint, it's an interesting answer to the question that has dominated the PT since the 1980s, and especially since 2002: what will a post-Lula presidency PT look like? One of the biggest challenges facing the PT has been that Lula has been its leader since it was formed out of the metal-workers' movement against the dictatorship in Brazil in the late-1970s. Lula has been the PT's face, its leader, its ideologue, and its communicator; at the same time, he has made clear that he would be finished with politics after his presidency, and there has been real concern within the party and among its supporters about what would happen to it - could it survive without Lula at the helm?

This effort to use the internet as a means of promoting not just its candidate, but its platforms and its ideas, seems to me to be a serious attempt to ground the PT as a party unto itself, rather than as "Lula's party." Who knows how this will play out - like the presidential elections of 2010, there's just too much time still to come and too many unknown factors to make any concrete guesses. Still, it's a fascinating move on the part of the PT, both for what it could mean for next year's election, and for what it could mean for Brazilian politics more generally.