Monday, October 02, 2006

Brazilian Elections, Round One

Now that the elections in Brazil have ended the first round and will begin crusing towards a second round between PT’s Lula (who finished with 48.6 percent of the vote) and the PSDBs Geraldo Alckmin (who came in with a surprising 41.4 percent), here are some thoughts on elections and politics in Brazil.

-Lula’s failure to accomplish a first round victory is surprising, and reminds me why I don’t care for the predictive type of political science. The week before the elections, Alckmin’s PSDB began accusing Lula’s party of trying to purchase a dossiê with information against one of the PSDB’s candidates in the national elections. These charges have nothing to do with Lula, yet the (to me, remarkably convenient) appearance of corruption charges against Lula’s party right before the elections managed to drop him JUST below the 50% majority he needed.

-Along those lines, Lula has rightfully filed a complaint with the National Tribunal of Elections and a judge seeking to declare Alckmin’s presidency invalid given the timing of the charges. He suggests that the charges are baseless and were timed so that his party would suffer in the national elections. While this may sound somewhat cockamamie to many, the judge has agreed to listen to the case. While I don’t think anything will come of it, it reveals how absolutely slimy the PSDB is. This is the same party who did all kinds of (at best) wheeling and dealing to see its party members elected to office in the 1990s and 2000s, proclaiming how unfair it was when opposition parties, led by the PT, decried their corruption, and yet now they’re pulling the same shit, acting all sanctimonious.

-Although there were four major presidential candidates, the division clearly is between Lula and Alckmin. Today, while at a movie at the Rio Film Festival, right before the movie began, somebody shouted out, “Alckmin, no!”, which garnered applause from a little over half the theater. Somebody else immediately countered with “Lula, no!”, which garnered applause from the rest.

-While many in America lament the presence of only two major parties, I think some would reconsider that stance given this weekend’s elections. While I’m all for multiple parties myself, particularly at the municipal, state, and national Congressional levels, multiple parties can be a curse. The presidential candidate Cristovam Buarque of the PTB (further leftist than the PT) never stood a chance in hell, staying at 2 percent throughout all the polling. In the final numbers, he took 2.67% of the votes. Had he not run, it is likely that those who voted for him would almost have assuredly putting Lula over 50% and letting the planning begin for the next term. Instead, Brazil is faced with another month of campaigning and what could be another close election between Lula’s social programs that the middle- and upper-classes can’t stand and Alckmin’s complete and total subservience to neoliberal policies of privatization. (This was the same reason I couldn’t stand people who voted for Nader in 1996 or 2000 or the Green party or Nader in 2004 – your vote is completely useless then. I know abstractly you’re saying something, but politics isn’t abstractions – it’s real. If you really want to change the system, get into it and change it from within. A vote for Nader or Perot or George Wallace or whomever won’t do much at all).

-Campaigning in Brazil is painful. The television assaults that we are used to in the United States probably aren’t as common, but overall, it’s complete sensory overload. You have people trying to hand you little pieces of paper saying to vote for this party or that party for deputy, governor, president, etc. That would be fine if the papers told you the candidates’ positions, but they don’t. They just say, “press number XXXX” (here, voting is electronic, and remarkably simple – see below). As a result, you get poor people hired by elitist parties handing out leaflets that are immediately thrown on the ground because nobody wants them, being fed up with all the political garbage, and the urban pollution skyrockets in the weeks before the election. Not only this. There are parades up and down Copacabana on the weekends. You have people waving flags on every corner, and cars driving around with huge stereo systems blaring out messages and songs for candidates that still tell you virtually nothing about the candidates, this time because within 10-30 seconds, they’re out of earshot. Thus, baring when you sleep, the propaganda is EVERYWHERE (and oftentimes, given the stereos, it even wakes you in your sleep).

-That said, election day itself is AMAZINGLY subdued. No handouts. No flags. No cars with stereo systems. No mailings. People go to the polls, they vote, and that’s that. Apparently, Brazil, like the U.S., has laws against election-day propaganda (which is remarkably unlike Costa Rica, whose elections I witnessed in 2002. There, all 13 parties were handing out items like flags, bumper stickers, t-shirts, everything, to people going to vote, and these tables went all the way up to where the voting stations were. And people waved flags, honked their horns, did all they could to manipulate voters right by the stations.) And voting is simple. As I mentioned, they only vote for five items – state deputies, federal deputy, governor, and president. No levies. No judges. No amendments. Just the candidates. Everything else is in the hands of the state. Thus, when I went with my girlfriend while she voted, I sat down, expecting a 20-45 minute wait, so you can imagine my surprise when she walked out 2 minutes after walking in. Plus, as it was a Sunday, and nobody has to work, polls were only open 8 AM to 5 PM.

-Finally, looking ahead….Alckmin and Lula will face each other in a second round on October 29. Additionally, for those states in which the leading gubernatorial candidate did not get 50%, and those districts where the federal deputy did not get 50%, there will also be elections for a second round. In all cases, winner takes all. Apparently, Lula and Alckmin will debate (and I’m guessing Lula shows up to this debate). I don’t know about the propaganda or anything, but stay tuned for the second blog about elections in Brazil around the 30th or so.