Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Democracy in Brazil

While few in America would even know, Brazil (a country larger than the continental U.S.) is heading towards its presidential elections on October 1, with Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva of the PT (Partido dos Trabaladores, or Workers' Party) seeking reelection against Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB, or Partido Social Democratico Brazileiro (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) (which, despite the NY Times' labeling, is NOT center left, but rather center-right - the political spectrum in Brazil is naturally radically different than that here, and thus, a little harder for some journalists stuck in the American way of imagining politics to wrap their minds around).

However, in the past several months, the campaign has gotten interesting. A third candidate, Heloisa Helena Lima de Moraes (known affectionately as "HH") of the newly-formed PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade - Socialism and Liberty Party) has emerged. She stands no chance of winning - her ratings hover between 9-15 percent, compared to the lower-20s for Alckmin and the mid-upper 40s for Lula. However, what is fascinating is she was a member of the PT until 2003, when she was expelled for being maverick, and has formed her own party that challenges Lula's administration. It has certainly made for some fascinating times in the campaigning process in Brazil.

However, the NY Times story on her today rests upon some flawed assumptions and notions. It analyzes her as a politician and provides a background on her personal history and beliefs. However, it assumes that her campaign will damage Lula's. In Brazil, if a candidate does not get 50% of the vote (due to many parties running), there is a run-off between the two top vote-getters. Thus, as it stands right now and has stood for awhile, Lula does face the very real probability of a run-off.

However, to presume that he would automatically lose such a run-off, or that it would be really difficult, is flawed. Certainly, a run-off (should there be one - you never know the way of the voters until the votes are count) would be a different matter than a multi-party election. But what the article today neglects to take into account is how people would then vote in a run-0ff in Brazil. Many people have said they will vote for HH, but if there's a run-off, Lula will get their votes. Basically, a Lula-Alckmin runoff (which, again, looks likely) will turn into a "vote for lesser of two evils" vote, and the history of the PSDB in increasing the wage gap in Brazil and their horrible subservience to the United States in a neoliberal policy (which wracked Brazil from 1994-2002 under the corrupt administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso), combined with Alckmin's completely non-charismatic character, will still probably give Lula the vote. People who vote for Alckmin in the first round will vote for him in the second, while the chance of somebody voting for HH in the first and then supporting Alckmin over Lula is virtually non-existant. Not only this, the NY Times reporter did not do his research. While HH's support has risen from 2% earlier this summer to about 11% now, Lula's support has remained around the 44-49% range. It's Alckmin's approval that has dropped, from 29% earlier to a sparse 22% just a few weeks ago.

It's nice to see any coverage of the Brazilian presidential campaign in the U.S. press at all. However, today's article reminds us that it must be taken as a grain of salt, offering an unfortunate example from one of the country's best newspapers that perceptions and understandings of other countries's political processes and situations are still painfully inadequate.