Presidential hopeful José Serra’s decision to choose a woman as
running mate could spur
other candidates to also pick
a female. This could add sparkle to the campaign but it is
doubtful. No one
votes for vice-president.
Brazilians have a lot to celebrate at the moment. Firstly, we have gained our first saint, proclaimed by the Pope
himself in a ceremony at the Vatican, attended by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (a future saint himself?) and various
political attention seekers. The fact that the saint, Madre Paulina, was born in Italy is not important as it is virtually impossible to
find anyone in southern Brazil whose granny was not Italian.
Secondly, Brazil will soon be in action in the World Cup finals. Although the team is not as good as one would wish
(thanks to the coach’s spiteful decision to leave out brilliant bad boy Romário) it should coast through the first round against
minnows like Turkey, Costa Rica and China. Unfortunately these games will take place at unearthly hours like 3:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.,
but patriotic Brazilians will set their alarms clocks and support their team through bleary eyes.
Thirdly, the World Cup will distract attention from the goings on of our political masters in the run-up to the
presidential elections. Even at peak viewing time few Brazilians will be cheering on any of the would-be presidents.
The presidential campaign has become like a boring
novela (soap opera), which appears every night but no one
watches any more. Even when the plot is spiced up a bitwith a bit of glamour and corruptionit makes no difference to the ratings.
Let’s look at glamour and corruption in terms of the government’s preferred candidate, former Health Minister José Serra. Glamour entered late last month in the shape of Congresswoman Rita Camata who was named as Serra’s running
mate. Not only is she good-looking and a million times more photogenic than Serra, she has a good legislative track record,
too. But does anyone really care? After all, she was Serra’s third choiceperhaps fourth if you believe some reports that he
favored Senator Pedro Simon, but was overruled by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
The first choice, Pernambuco State Governor Jarbas Vasconcelos, retreated earlier this year, scared that Serra would
not improve his abysmal opinion poll ratings. The second, House Representative Henrique Eduardo Alves from Rio Grande
do Norte, was ditched after allegations that he had money stashed away in undeclared bank accounts abroad. Even Ms
Camata expressed little public enthusiasm when her name was put forward.
In constitutional terms the vice-presidency is very important and two recent vice-presidentsJosé Sarney and
Itamar Francobecame full presidents due to the respective death and resignation of the bosses, Tancredo Neves and
Fernando Collor. However, during Cardoso’s less dramatic mandates the vice-president has become almost invisible. Probably
most electors could not even name the incumbent, Marco Maciel. Serra’s decision could spur the PT candidate, Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva, to pick a female running mate. This could add a bit of much-needed sparkle to the campaign but it is doubtful.
No one votes for vice-president.
Introducing corruption has also done nothing to boost the ratings. Early May, the magazine
Veja brought up Serra’s name in a report alleging that a former director of the state-owned Banco do Brasil, who was close to Serra, had demanded
payment from a businessman to pay for earlier political campaigns. For almost a week the media was in a feeding frenzy, but what
was Serra’s response? He waved it aside with a few curt dismissals, and left it to others, including Cardoso himself who
called it "reheated", to deal with the allegations. Today it is no longer an issue.
Serra walked away from what could have been a public relations disaster not because people think he is necessarily
more honest or innocent but because they are fed up with politics. Hardly a day passes without the release of a new opinion
poll. Lula is always well ahead of the pack, with Serra and Rio’s former Governor Anthony Garotinho far behind. In this
particular case, it was interesting to note how the media backed off in a way they did not do with Senators Jáder Barbalho and
Antonio Carlos Magalhães who were hounded out of office last year. Is the fact that Serra is from São Paulowhere the media is
strongest and most anti-Lula, while the other two were from the North and Northeastrelevant?
Serra is right to be dismissive and offhand because he knows he is the only serious contender against Lula. Just as
France’s right-wing president Jacques Chirac got the left-wing vote against Le Pen so Serra will get the center and right-wing
votes against Lula. Serra is waiting for the apples to fall into his lap and they have already started. The PFL, which left the
government over allegations that Serra and his supporters had sabotaged the plans of its candidate, Roseana Sarney, was talking
about lining up with him against Lula. The media is also generally on Serra’s side and is full of articles questioning whether the
PT has really changed its stripes and prophesizing dire consequences if he wins.
For the next couple of weeks sport not politics will dominate the media giving us all a well-deserved break. Roll on
the World Cup and, in the sad absence of Scotland, let’s all cheer on Brazil!
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He
writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações, which specializes in editorial and translation
services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at
This article was originally published by E-zine
Infobrazil – www.infobrazil.com
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