Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Brazil's Presidential Debates - The Third Round

For those paying attention, I didn't write about the second round of debates, primarily because I missed them due to the vagaries of time. However, while I thought I might have missed something important in the second round, it turns out I missed virtually nothing. That said, on to the third debate.

The same issues came up in this round that had come up in the first (and, from my reading of news stories, the second) rounds. Alckmin continuously referred to the alleged corruption in Lula's administration and criticized the government spending, again indicating his lack of any real plans, proposals, or goals beyond the vague promises to "cut spending" and "end corruption." For his part, Lula continued to rely upon the accomplishments he has managed in his administration (particularly the curbing of inflation, which is at 2% right now, and the social programs), and his accusations (in essence) that Alckmin is unable to lead and would sell the country to private multinational companies if he won.

There haven't been any general changes in attitudes and appearances in the two men. Alckmin continues to go on, at times continuing bombastically well after his time is up (twice this time). Either he hasn't learned his lesson from the first debate, he doesn't care given his current standing (he has 39% to Lula's 61% in the latest poll today in the Folha de São Paulo polls), or the tantrum-like behavior just isn't as important in the Brazilian electorate's eyes (I'm guessing it's primarily the second reason, with a little bit of the first and third thrown in). Lula, on the other hand, continues his grandfatherly-like (at least to me) appeals to the poor, his charisma, and his (sometimes barely hidden) chastising of and dislike for Alckmin. While the atmosphere between tehse two men remains contentious, it's not as fierce as in the first round. I'm guessing the open hostilities have subsided somewhat, as they now treat each other as antagonists who can't stand each other but who have to deal with the other civilly.

While the general bearing of the debate hadn't changed, the candidates did get into policy more than they did in the first debate, where more personal attacks were present (it was as if, by the third round, they had settled a bit). Alckmin basically continues to criticize Lula's spending, proposing to cut national spending. Throughout his economic goals, the vague threat of privatization still looms above his rhetoric. While he has laid off the initially open privatization rhetoric he first employe, he hasn't steered away from teh goals of liberalism, and his history of privatization of roads, banks, state-owned companies, etc. while governor of São Paulo still follows him, and he hasn't done much to distance himself from such policies.

On the other hand, Lula continues to defend his social programs which have expanded the size of the middle class (including "less white" people, a fact which has pissed off the "white" middle class to no end and has contributed greatly to the extremely antagonistic approach to Lula among the middle class, an antagonism I have seen personally as baseless claims about him being a drunk and lazy have hounded him among acquaintances of mine). In response to Alckmin's critiques of government spending, he points to the gains the country has made both in terms of domestic gross product and the earnings the country has gained via trade agreements with other developing nations during his administration.

Also, at last, the proposed foreign policy of these two men has come up. It appeared briefly in the first round, but was fleshed out more fully in the third. Alckmin basically wants to re-orient policy in Brazil towards the United States and Europe. He feels that Lula has become too "subservient" to South America (nevermind that Alckmin basically wants to become subservient to the United States). The real critique behind these claims rests with Bolivia. Evo Morales has recently nationalized oil, and Brazil's nationalized petroleum company, Petrobras, has fallen under this nationalization. However, Morales has not taken away Brazil's rights to oil. Rather, he has promised to examine the rates which Brazil pays for petroleum, and if it is fair (to Bolivia), he will allow it to continue at said rates; if not, he will increase it to a just rate in comparison to the world market. It is worth bearing in mind that Brazil has lost neither access to oil nor rights to be in Bolivia. It has been a delicate scenario, certainly, but Lula has played the diplomat perfectly, continuing dialogue with Morales. However, Alckmin sees Lula's "dialogue" as "subservience", not just to Bolivia (though that's the hottest spot right now), but also to Venezuela, Argentina, and others.

In response, Lula has criticized Alckmin's northern-hemispheric approach. He feels that dialogue is essential, not just between Brazil and the U.S/European axis, but throughout the world, including South America, Africa, and Asia (hence the economic agreements he has established with places like Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and China, among others). Lula openly criticizes Alckmin's notion of diplomacy as a stand-offish event, and has even gotten digs in on both Alckmin and Bush/the United States by claiming that international politics demands dialogue, not aggression and alienation of other countries. The basic difference, essentially, is that Alckmin wants to isolate Brazil from the rest of Latin America and align solely with the axis of U.S.-Europe, while Lula is more open to dialogue with all countries whom he feels Brazil and said countries can mutually benefit each other. An interesting side-note in this is that, in reality, the U.S. does not dominate the foreign policy of either man. Certainly, Alckmin has referred to the U.S. and relations between Brazil and the U.S., and Lula has criticized the Bush-model of "diplomacy" (if you can call what Bush does diplomacy, though that's another post), but the broader issue at hand in Brazil's foreign policy debate is simply is Brazil going to take an interactive, dialogue-based role within the developing world, or is it going to assume a more subservient role to the so-called "First World."

One final, cultural comment about the debate Monday night is it's time. It started at 10:30 in most of Brazil (which, like the U.S., has multiple time zones), and didn't wrap up until 12:15 in the morning. If debates were so long and so late in the U.S., it's worth wondering if anybody would even bother watching them...