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Who Will Be the Anti-Lula in Brazil?

So much for the holiday period.  Over the last month there has been plenty of maneuvering as Brazil’s aspiring presidential candidates jockey to raise their profile.  Although the contest is 21 months away it already seem likely who may put themselves forward.

While it looks odds-on that Lula (PT) will stand for re-election in 2006 ”“ having been the bridesmaid in 1989, 1994 and 1998 he will start from an even better position next time around ”“ the eyes are on who will face him from the opposition side.


And this week it was the turn of Rio’s ex-governor, Anthony Garotinho (PMDB), to strike a pose.  On Friday he launched a criticism against Lula’s government for giving a raw deal.  His comments followed a judicial ruling that overturned his party’s extraordinary general meeting last month and which would have taken the PMDB out of the governing coalition in Congress.


But the extent to which the PMDB can be a serious contender is questionable.  In 1994 the party only picked up 4%; in 1998 and 2002 it ran as part of the social democrat PSDB electoral alliance. 


Nonetheless, this reckons without Garotinho’s own ambition and the possibility of the party aiming to advance itself as a credible force in a broader coalition.  Furthermore, Garotinho needs to boost his own profile after the start that his Carioca rival, Rio mayor Cesar Maia (PFL), has made.


Last month Maia announced he intends to be a candidate and used his first week back at work to announce a package of proposals, including new sports facilities for the 2007 Pan-American Games to take place in Rio.


Cesar Maia secured an easy re-election as Rio mayor in October without needing to go into a second round.  He feels confident that he can leave his job two years into his second term, which prompted him to throw his hat into the ring. 


But he may have compromised himself, by becoming the first one to make his aims explicit.  More savvy candidates may wait to see if he can survive the media scrutiny that will result; and whether or not he gets dragged down because of it.


Maia may also be disadvantaged by his party label.  A member of the centre-right PFL, his party is better known for supporting the nominee of its coalition partners, the PSDB. 


That was the case throughout the 1990s, with the PFL, under the control of Bahia senator and king maker, Antonio Carlos Magalhães (ACM), engineering the congressional support for FHC’s governments between 1995 and 2002.


But ACM isn’t the power he once was, having fallen out with some in his party.  A few months ago he and several acolytes were reported to be lunching with Lula. 


Apparently the discussions involved the possibility of several disaffected pefelistas leaving with ACM to set up a party that would rival their former colleagues ”“ and offer a centre-right dimension to the governing coalition in Congress. 


However this internal feuding within the PFL is eventually resolved, it’s possible that debate over whether the party will remain the bridesmaid to a PSDB president or seek the position itself ”“ as Cesar Maia seems to be counting on ”“ is something that may well continue.


And with the defeat of ACM’s protégé at the polls in the Bahian capital, Salvador, in November, questions may well be raised over whether the party will continue to take the same approach they did in the 1990s.


Whatever the PFL decide to do, on the PSDB side there would seem to be equal obscurity.  Following the local elections the most prominent prospective candidate may well be Geraldo Alckmin, the PSDB governor in São Paulo state. 


He has earned plaudits for effectively transferring some of his popularity to his dour party colleague, José Serra, during the race for São Paulo mayor.


Serra managed to beat off Lula’s PT colleague and incumbent, Marta Suplicy, to the position, thanks in large part to the negative perception voters had of Marta, as well as the impression generated that a PSDB mayor and PSDB governor would work effectively for the city.


Alckmin’s presidential chances will also benefit from Serra’s pledge that if elected, he would serve a full term rather than use the mayoralty to ‘trampoline’ into the presidential race. 


This week as he took office Serra again reported that he will see out his full term; whether he commits to that remains to be seen.  However, having been the defeated presidential candidate in 2002 may well count against him.


Which brings us to the question of what to make of Serra’s former boss, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC); at the beginning of December he was making disparaging comments about Lula’s government and its performance.  It may well be asked whether it merited the attention it was given.


But even if FHC isn’t seriously thinking about standing again, he must have been cheered earlier this year when a polling company cheekily included his name among the number of possible challengers Lula might face in 2006. 


Reassuringly for a two-terms ex-president, FHC scored well, beating off several other more active and aspiring candidates.  Whether it was down to name recognition over anything else, though, wasn’t reported.


Guy Burton was born in Brazil and now lives in London. He has written widely on Brazil both for Brazzil and on his blog, Para Inglês Ver, which can be read at http://guyburton.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at gjsburton@hotmail.com.

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