Elections in Brazil: The first round heralds polarisation and instability

The first round in the Brazilian elections can only mean further instability for the largest country in Latin America. The Brazilian ruling class looks with fear at the developing revolutions in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Mexico. At any time, over any issue, the masses of Brazil could rise up

The most striking features of the recent elections in Brazil on October 1 are the clear victory of the left and a large political polarisation. If we focus on the presidential elections, which have the most political significance (there were also state and municipal elections as well as elections to the senate and congress) the results were as follows: Lula, the PT (Workers' Party) candidate, received 48.61% of the vote; Heloisa Helena, of the PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) a left split from the PT, received 6.85%; Cristovam Buarque, a former minister in Lula's government who was expelled from the PT received 2.67%. Thus the total vote of the left represented 58.13% of the total as opposed to 41.58% for the right-wing candidate Alckim of the PSDB (the Social Democratic Party of Brazil).

However, from these results it is also clear to see that the right wing has been able to increase its vote. In the first round of the 2002 presidential elections the right-wing candidate of the PSDB, Serra, the only candidate to stand for the right, received only 23.2% of the votes and was more than 20 points behind Lula. Now the difference has been reduced to 7. In comparison with the historic and overwhelming victory of Lula in the second round four years ago, which had an electrifying effect on the whole country, all indications are that his probable victory in the second round will be much closer.

Voting is mandatory in Brazil for those 18 and over and voluntary for those 16 to 18. According to various reports in the press the abstention rate was the lowest since 1989. Analysing the different regions the increase in participation was greater in respect to four years ago where Lula won most comfortably, the poorest regions in the north and northeast of the country. It was in the State of Sao Paulo, the most highly populated in the country, where the right wing won most decisively. The red belt of the city of Sao Paulo is the most important centre of the Brazilian proletariat and was the birthplace of the CUT (Trade Union Confederation) and the PT; however, there is a large concentration of middle-class layers in the megapolis, from which the right wing draws a good part of its electoral support.

Lula recently complained in an interview in the Folha de Sao Paulo about the ungratefulness of the wealthy of the country, who have not ceased to attack him despite the fact that under his government the capitalists are making more money than ever. A few days before the elections the mass media reported on a case of corruption in which various officials of the party's electoral teams were surprised while attempting to buy a dossier with which they could accuse the candidate of the right of misappropriation of funds while he was the governor of the state of Sao Paulo. This episode triggered an intense media campaign in which Lula and the PT were accused of corruption, repeating the situation of a little over a year ago, in which almost the whole of the leadership of the party was forced to resign. In perfect harmony with the media the right-wing candidate proclaimed himself the champion of "ethics". As the PT accepts the logic of capitalism it is inevitable that corruption would penetrate its structures, especially at the top; however the so-called "dossiergate" has all the signs of having been meticulously prepared by the right wing, who are eager to regain the presidency.

The overwhelming victory of Lula in 2002 reflected a profound and widespread desire for social change on the part of the immense majority of Brazilian society. It was the electoral expression of a shift to the left, which has taken place across the whole of Latin America over the last four years and which continues to this day. The meaning of the results of those elections were so clear that even the numerous examples of the moderation of the PT leadership and their marked turn to the right both in terms of language and their programme were not enough to calm the fears of the bourgeois over the political consequences of such an overwhelming victory of the left. The press was rabid, the centres of finance worried, and the landowners furious. Once in power Lula set as his main task to show that he was more papal than the pope in the application of neo-liberal policies. Now the financial sector is happy, and the big capitalists as well, as they are making more profits than ever. Is that the end of the story? No.

Although the bankers and the bourgeois pat Lula on the back so that he continues to do what he is doing, there remains for them a point, and a well-founded point, of concern. Of course this concern is not with Lula but with the attitude that the social sectors that support him could adopt in this second term - the working class, the peasantry and in general the poor masses of the cities and the countryside. The bourgeois will ask themselves for how long they can keep Brazil outside the revolutionary process which has broken out in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Mexico and will be looking with renewed and particular horror at what is happening in Mexico. And if this is the more or less inevitable destiny of Brazil, how do we face it? How do we prepare ourselves for it? The bourgeois will think it best to support Lula, so that they can restrain his social base of support without neglecting plan B. That is to say, the formation of a government of the traditional and direct representatives of the bourgeoisie.

And if the ruling class wants to regain the chance of winning the presidency, so severely damaged in the 2002 elections, it must be done somehow. How? By creating uneasiness amongst their social base of support, by sowing unrest in the middle classes, creating hysteria by explaining the "dangers" of chavismo on the continent and "the gas that the Bolivians want to take" through Lula's lack of firmness, by intensively using the press, corruption, etc. This will be the dynamic. Polarisation is not an "intelligent" option, but reality drives polarisation. In a recent article The Wall Street Journal drew up the following perspective:

"Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva seems on the verge of overcoming a withering corruption scandal to handily win another four-year term running the Latin American nation with the most people and biggest economy.

"But his victory won't come without a cost: Due in part to the divisive strategy the president has used to deflect corruption allegations and to secure re-election, Brazil is witnessing an unusual level of polarisation between economic and social classes (...)

"In stump speeches peppered with class-war rhetoric, the former factory worker (...) is regularly castigating "the elites" who nearly forced him out of office during a vote-buying scandal last year."

And the article conclude:

"To unlock Brazil's potential, economists say, Mr. da Silva needs to pass pension, labor and budget overhauls that would reduce a bloated public sector (...)

"But some say the populist tone of Mr. da Silva's campaign may tie his hands in a second term. "I don't know if he'll be able to do these reforms, because they are a little disagreeable to the people electing him," says Antonio Russo, a big beef exporter and friend of the president who is running as an alternate congressional candidate for an opposition party."

A situation of widespread mobilisations in a country like Brazil terrifies the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. It is not certain that Lula will be able to avoid such a situation and in reality this is the only thing the bourgeois and the imperialists want him for. Perhaps for this reason a sector of the bourgeoisie have placed their bet on burying the PT underneath a gigantic mountain of corruption, to win the elections and in this way deal a demoralising blow against the workers and poor masses in Brazil and in Latin America. In this context, the position of Helena Heloisa, the PSOL candidate, of "neutrality" in the second round is complete madness. However, this option also has many dangers for the ruling class. Ciro Gomez, a former minister in the Lula government, recently warned that if Lula loses the second round there will be social tension and an increase in political conflicts. He suggested that both the government and the opposition should remain calm and that they must both contribute to the disarming of the "social bomb". He said that "if the poorest of the Brazilian population feel that, even from the institutions themselves, there has been coup-like practices or activities which prevent the re-election of Lula, I really fear what will happen the next day." And the most significant thing he said was, "The poor class believes in the democratic road to overcome their misery. This is materialized in Lula. If he loses the elections, it is part of the game. But, if the people believe that there were manoeuvres to defeat him, there is no doubt that the revolt and the reaction would be very large," anticipating and warning about the dangers of the "unscrupulous behaviour of the Brazilian political elite". But the fact is that this elite is the one that exists in Brazil and is a factor in the equation.

The next legislature will probably be very unstable. The bourgeoisie wants to start social and labour counter-reforms again. It is necessary to follow through with their severe plans of budgetary adjustments in order to continue fulfilling their commitments to the IMF and the primary surplus. However, it is very significant that a part of these counter-reforms have been paralysed since the mass movement in the streets of civil servants, which was against the application of the law on pensions. Of course the Lula government has maintained the same economic policies as the right wing - as the governments of Cardoso. But it is also true that since then they have not dared to clash head on with the workers' movement and have postponed harder measures for the second term. The shock is on the horizon: for millions of workers and peasants the Lula government continues to be their government. They have been patient, have waited four years, but there have been little or no improvements. However, the rich have done very well. Another victory for Lula, which will temporarily remove the danger of a return to the right, could be the moment of the settling of accounts with "their" government and force him to put his promised changes into practice. At any time the masses will rise up, as they have in Venezuela, Bolivia and Mexico. Any accident could set it off.

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