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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brazil’s Election: All over Bar the Voting?

There are 40 days to go until Brazil’s general elections on October 3 and as everybody knows, that is a very long time in politics. But at present it is hard to imagine any other outcome than a resounding victory in the presidential race for Dilma Rousseff, chosen successor to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the left-wing PT, in power for the last eight years as the most popular president in Brazilian history.

An opinion poll published today gives Dilma an 18 point lead over her nearest rival, José Serra of the centrist opposition PSDB. Serra led most opinion polls until last month, largely, it now seems, because he was simply better known. His hope was to maintain enough momentum to force Dilma into a two-way run-off on October 31. But the latest polls give Dilma more votes than all other candidates combined – enough to secure outright victory in the first round.

Dilma’s campaign has been quick to exploit her commanding lead.
Serra’s campaign is in disarray. He seems to be running on a single issue: his achievements as health minister a decade ago and his investments in health services as mayor of São Paulo city and governor of São Paulo state. He has taken up valuable column inches accusing Evo Morales of Bolivia of running cocaine into Brazil, accusing the PT of links to the FARC in Colombia and accusing the government of censoring Brazil’s press – surely one of the most uncensored in the world.

None of this has anything to do with his programme for government. Indeed, it is hard to see what his programme is. It should be to continue the overhaul of the Brazilian state begun in the 1990s by his party colleague Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Instead, Serra has allowed Dilma to position herself as the champion of orthodoxy and fiscal responsibility, floating the possibility of a “positive shock” like that delivered by Lula in 2003, his first year in office.

Then, Lula enacted a partial reform of the public pensions system and cut public spending, before allowing it to expand thereafter. Dilma’s aides are promising to lower the government’s inflation target and increase its primary budget surplus (before debt payments – including those, the government is running a deficit). Whether this will be a short-term bid to win over investors or the beginnings of root and branch reform, Brazilians look very likely to find out soon.


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