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Brazil’s Predictable uncertainness: Politics between power elites and the popular masses
October 10, 2014, 6:21 am

Brazil’s 2014 presidential election became atypical once Marina Silva replaced Eduardo Campos, who was killed in a plane crash, as the Brazilian Socialist Party’s (PSB) candidate.

Swing voters at first supported Silva’s appeals to introduce new political paradigms and practices,but ended up endorsing the traditional centrist candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Democrat Party (PSDB) Aécio Neves.

Incumbent President Dilma Rousseff from the ruling Worker’s Party (PT) won the first round but will face off against Neves in the second round of voting on October 26.

Toward the end of campaigning last week, Neves turned to the PSDB’s long-held traditional opposition of the PT government in a bid to woo Silva’s voters. The aim was (and remains) to capture the desire for political change demanded by protesters last year.

However, the Parliament, which was elected last Sunday, is far away from representing anything but political continuity.

Although some marginal changes were introduced – such as increasing the number of political parties (a total of 28 now), partial reformation of legislatures, and the presence of more women in the Senate – these fail to disguise the predominance of traditionalism, with old political elites still overrepresented.

A boy plays with campaign flyers during the general elections in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, on Oct. 5, 2014 [Xinhua]

A boy plays with campaign flyers during the general elections in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, on Oct. 5, 2014 [Xinhua]

The same trend is true of the state gubernatorial elections, with few exceptions.

Pivotal issue of demarcation

Important issues such as the demarcation of indigenous territory – a constitutional device which protects such lands from encroachment by non-indigenous people – will remain under the jurisdiction of Congressional decision-making.

This is despite the fact that none of the indigenous candidates won a seat there due to high campaign costs (among other factors).

Furthermore, several elected congressional representatives are involved with stakeholders’ interests either to preserve the current legal framework, assuring the right to full indigenous territory demarcation, or on the other side, pushing to transfer this kind of decision towards regional legislative assemblies where agribusiness and mineral extractors wield more considerable influence.

When it comes to the issue of demarcation, there is no clear-cut distinction between presidential candidates. For example, Silva’s biographical résuméis tidily attached to environmental struggles, while her political mate running for vice-president was known for representing agribusiness interests and for voting against indigenous territory demarcation.

Meanwhile, Dilma’s government has been blamed for interrupting the demarcation process, and for evictions in both urban and rural areas in order to install thermoelectric plants there.

It is the adoption of a development model based on commodities exports that threatens environmental sustainability and becomes vulnerable to international market fluctuations. It also unbalances the distribution of power because of the government’s need to reach equilibrium in foreign trade.

As a result, the intertwinement of political and business interests detrimentally restraints government actions to promote and protect marginalized groups’ rights.

The pro-business candidate from PSDB will not face this kind of contradiction, however, since deepening democratic participation is not part of his platform.

Under the PSDB, democracy is about political parties continuing to compete under well-known rules, even if the pro-economic elite is perpetuated this way.

Thus, there is no moral basis for democracy or the principle of justice when institutional arrangements and economic efficiency become the priority.

Furthermore, adjustment measures such as state downsizing (which weakens capacity) become acceptable because public-private partnerships are supposed to be the best solution.

Ultimately, such policies consider the cutting of public expenditure to be necessary despite their adverse effects such as provoking unemployment and increasing inequality.

Traditional political competition

Polarization between the PT and PSDB candidates has been the usual confrontation in Brazil’s traditional political sphere of the last 20 years.

The PSDB’s economic management policy centers on monetary stability, controlled inflation, and fiscal balance to pay off interest debt.

Such orthodox means were already used during former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s tenure (1995-2003) and were considered exemplary in reducing inflation while increasing interest rates to a level that was unbearable for industries and consumers, but excellent for financial markets.

On the other hand, in tandem with its social inclusion platform, the PT government has been using public banks to enlarge popular credit, invest in public infrastructure and keep unemployment low while permanently increasing minimum wage above inflation.

Dilma Rousseff (back), Brazil's president and presidential candidate of the Worker's Party, addresses a press conference at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, on Oct. 6, 2014 [Xinhua]

Dilma Rousseff (back), Brazil’s president and presidential candidate of the Worker’s Party, addresses a press conference at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, on Oct. 6, 2014 [Xinhua]

Some of PT’s successful social programs have included conditional cash transfers, popular housing programs and quotas for positive discrimination in universities.

PT’s socio-economic challenges

However, poor industrial performance and soaring inflation in the last few years has worked to defeat these model foundations.

Some have even said that continuing the social inclusion platform would put Brazil’s traditional political culture and power distribution at risk.

Firstly, recent socioeconomic re-stratification is blurring social barriers and gathering in the same public sphere people from different social, economic and racial origins.

Privileges and distinctions were always the safeguard of the middle class, which is now feeling uncomfortable staying in the same airport, mall, shops, or elsewhere with the “others”.

Secondly, the government has been using public financial mechanisms to provide credit cheaper than private banks in order to force them to cut down their interest rates.

This economic turbulence was further exacerbated when emergent economies (like Brazil) – motivated by the recent creation of the BRICS Bank – sought to gain more autonomy to curb financial speculation.

This was a red line for financial markets, which have enjoyed stratospheric profit levels assured by their control over state debtors.

Ultimately, the tensions born of these economic and political constraints – and the government strategy to deal with them – created an undesired dissociation between the PT government and social movements.

This is the bane of leftist governments in Latin America.

They have been facing the dilemma of ruling in conflict with traditional elites while mobilizing masses to gain legitimacy.

Alternatively, they have also created a quandary in maintaining institutional stability through an alliance with powerful conservative actors.

In the first case, they are accused of populist maneuvering, which some say threatens democracy.

In the second, leftist governments become prisoners of their traditionalist allies, and consequently are unable to keep active mobilization and fulfill voters’ expectations.

Both situations lead to predictable, yet unstable political conditions, which ultimately increase uncertainness about elections and governance.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

2 Responses to Brazil’s Predictable uncertainness: Politics between power elites and the popular masses

  1. Eraldo Reply

    October 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

    This partnership won’t help the country! Let’s make an analysis of Neves’s plans regarding the economy!!!
    a- he wants ties with US. This means yielding to USD and Brazil becomes again dependent of this slaving system mixed with paying for the war fronts of the mid east via USD exchange when the US federal reserve stops printing money! This truly is deadly! Thus far we, in Brazil, are having stable prices of the USD because of the money printing festival of the US dolar! Let’s evaluate when the Federal gov. of US then halts printing=real x USD wilt have disparity on exchanges and Brazil goes down overnight! Inflation is already the highest 6.5 and climbing! Simply the situation gets down to pay for the US foreign wars because Romney(previous candidate of US election last) is coming back like the Goat of Daniel’s prophecy charging with the highest strength determined to kick out Obama!!! Romney has great chances of winning the next election and He wilt get the budget of US in order!!! This means the price tag of these wars must be paid for and the USD X world exchanges wilt get charged for!!!
    b-Neves’s plan also sets Brazil to do trade with the stagnated European union saved by the Chinese. Mr Li is visiting USSR at this moment, He visited Germany and the next is Italy! So, this proves the deals must be made with China exclusively at this time and no one else until our economy gets back with profits rather than printing money w/o industry backing!
    Neves’s plans is a total fraud!!! He wilt benefit the rich and the big industries as it was 12+ years ago under center right government!

  2. Ricardo Rohm Reply

    October 17, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Sonia Fleury’s analysis is sharp and enlightened as it considers the predictable uncertainness which happens to challenge one’s understanding of the brazilian political scenario nowadays. Indeed, it seems that this pro-business right-winged candidate, AECIO NEVES, could probably bring the brazilian society into an even more uncertain situation if one takes into account the real demands from the social movements which would not be properly dealt with in such circumstance.It does not seem feasible that brazilian socioeconomic issues would become better in case the PSDB candidate wins the presidential election. Also, the more the Congress becomes traditional and conservative, as it actually became after these nationwide elections, the more difficult becomes governability toward fostering the social policies as well as its achievements which had already been developed under the PT government.

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