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Voters to Choose Between Past and Future in Brazil

 Voters to Choose Between Past and 
  Future in Brazil

A win for Marta Suplicy
as Mayor of São Paulo would indicate
that Brazilian President Lula was on the right track. It would
help him press on with his foreign policy. Why so much attention
on the outcome of one election when there will be thousands of
elections? The fact is São Paulo is the only one that matters.
By Guy
Burton

Marta Suplicy

I’ve been quiet from these pages for the last few weeks. But that doesn’t
mean I’ve been on holiday. No, I have been working while in my spare time
I’ve been helping to set up and run a new blog (a short term for `web log’—an
online diary which is regularly updated). Along with a colleague, we’re going
to monitor the election campaign currently taking place in São Paulo.

São Paulo, I hear
people mutter. What possible reason could there be to follow that when there
is a far more pressing contest taking place further north, between George
Dubya and John Kerry? It’s a good point, not least because whoever wins in
the US later this year will have a profound impact on foreign policy and how
America is perceived around the world.

But even though it may
seem obscure, the São Paulo contest is important for Brazil and South
America. With just over a month until the first round of voting takes place,
the choice appears to be between the past and the future: on the one hand
the social democrat/neo-liberal coalition which ran the country for most of
the 1990s; on the other the current government and ostensibly socialist Workers
Party (PT).

Whoever wins São
Paulo will have an effect on the Brazilian president’s re-election prospects.
With those elections due in 2006, the present contest offers voters an opportunity
to pass a mid-term judgment on President Lula’s first two years.

If they plump for his
party colleague—and São Paulo’s current mayor—Marta Suplicy,
then PT campaign managers will be confident they are on the right track, despite
the government’s decision to follow an orthodox economic policy when it took
office last year.

But if Marta fails to
land a second term, the PT soothsayers may become jumpy. A victory for her
closest rival, the former Health Minister José Serra of the Brazilian
Social Democratic Party (PSDB), may well mean voters don’t think Lula has
delivered.

And for Serra and his
party it would keep alive the hope of winning the presidency in 2006 with
their electoral and Congressional allies, the neo-liberal Liberal Front Party
(PFL). That outcome would mean a swift end to the PT’s social and political
experiments and a return to business as usual.

Beyond Brazil the ramifications
of the São Paulo poll is equally important. Lula represents an indigenous
and new democratic Left; his isn’t the brand transported to South America
by the old Soviet Union and which lives on in Cuba.

A win for Marta would
indicate that Lula was on the right track; it would help him press on with
his current robust foreign policy, including the campaign for a permanent
UN Security Council seat, a larger presence in peace-keeping missions abroad
and pressure for fair international trade rules.

But why should so much
attention be placed on the outcome of one election? After all, all Brazilian
cities face mayoral contests this year; when you include the candidates for
city council as well the number of elections will run into thousands.

Yet despite these numbers,
the fact remains that São Paulo is really the only one that matters.
Whereas Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre all have populations
over one million, São Paulo remains the largest and most important
of them all. As the biggest city in South America nearly 20 million people
call São Paulo their home; half the population of the state as a whole.

Economically São
Paulo is huge: it is the commercial, financial and industrial centre of the
country and constitutes around a third of Brazil’s GNP. The surrounding metropolitan
area houses much of Brazil’s industry, which makes up two-thirds of the nation’s
output. As for São Paulo state, its people contribute 40% of federal
tax revenues, much of which will come from city residents.

Because of São
Paulo’s economic clout, it has played a key role in Brazil’s politics. Ever
since it’s emergence as the country’s powerhouse at the end of the nineteenth
century few politicians have managed to reach the top without its support,
including the current and last presidents, both residents of São Paulo.
In Congress, São Paulo state has one of the largest congressional delegations—a
recognition of its demographic size.

Yet given the importance
of this election, there is a dearth of coverage—in English at any rate.
While there are some websites providing around-the-clock news on the candidates
and issues, they remain largely in Portuguese. This means a great many people
who might otherwise be interested in the contest and its implications are
excluded. So we took it upon ourselves to fill that gap and offer news and
comment as the election unfolds.

Two weeks ago we began
Prefeito Paulistano 2004 (www.saopaulo2004.blogspot.com).
Through it we hope to recreate the success of Andrew Stevens’
previous blog on the London elections earlier this year, Race
4 City Hall (www.race4cityhall.blogspot.com).
As for me, I was introduced to blogging earlier this year during
my own failed election bid in London.

At first glance many readers
may well find it odd that two London-based bloggers would choose to follow
a contest taking place over an ocean away. But we are aware of the interest
that Lula and his party, as a symbol of the new democratic left in the region,
has proven of interest to observers in Britain and America because of an on-going
fascination of many on the British left with Latin American socialist endeavours,
particularly with those of a soixante-huitard complexion.

Furthermore, with Internet
access we are guaranteed almost immediate information on the election campaign,
including the candidates’ comments, their policies and their whereabouts.
In addition, we are no strangers to blogging from afar: Andrew is currently
the author of another blog which follows the Hartlepool by-election in northern
England (www.guacamoleville.blogspot.com).

Both of us also bring
a range of experiences to the blog. Andrew has extensive knowledge of sub-national
government and local politics on a comparative level: he wrote the Politico’s
Guide to Local Government and is currently the Government Relations Manager
for the Japan Local Government Centre in London.

Guy not only has practical
experience of local elections, he is also a student of Latin American and
Brazilian politics, having contributed research on the PT in Radicals in
Power (Zed Books, 2003).

As I mentioned earlier,
as a first test of support in Lula’s leadership, the outcome in São
Paulo cannot be overstated. The size and importance of São Paulo makes
what should be a local contest into a national one.

Win or lose, much of the
way the PT is perceived between now and the presidential election in two years’
time will depend on Marta’s result. Similarly, if the PSDB is to present a
serious challenge to Lula at those future elections, it will need to make
a good showing in the mayoral election.

Until a winner is declared,
we will cover the story. Whether it is the beginning or end of October (depending
on whether a second round is necessary) we will provide an overview of the
events as they unfold in the campaign.

We’ll point readers to
stories, both in Portuguese and English, which help add substance to the contest
and develop the audience’s awareness and understanding of the city and its
politics.

Yes, we have reserved
the right to pass comment on occasion and in some cases either criticise or
lampoon the candidates. But because of the language barriers faced by those
who don’t speak or read Portuguese, when we do that we’ll try and make it
clear where the news ends and our comments begin.

Besides, the coverage
can’t be translated too dryly: animated, irreverent views will help stimulate
the readership, we hope. And as ever, we invite them to get involved, by offering
comments and suggestions of their own.


Guy Burton lives in London. He is about to begin a postgraduate degree in
Latin American politics at the Institute for the Study of the Americas,
University of London. He has written for Brazzil magazine previously
and contributed research on the Workers Party’s experience of regional government
in Gianpaolo Baiocchi’s Radicals in Power (Zed Books, 2003). A candidate
during the London elections, he started blogging his campaign experiences
at www.guyburton.blogspot.com.
He can be contacted at gjsburton@hotmail.com.

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