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Brazil Has a Lot to Learn from the US Primaries

Democrats debate during primariesThe U.S. presidential candidates in the general election debate only a few times, but the debates among the candidates seeking their party’s nomination through the primaries and caucuses take two years. In the past two years, the future president, Barack Obama, emerged.

He was not a member of the Democratic Party bureaucracy; he was not the candidate of the party machine; he was not even that well known. He did not have high ratings in the public-opinion polls. Two years of debates consolidated the idea that, as he said during the campaign, “It was possible.”

This is something we do not have in Brazil. The debates remain closed off here and do not even occur within many political parties. Blocs of political parties join together to pick a single candidate, thus denying the voter the possibility of choosing among options.

Last month, Senator Pedro Simon called upon all the politicians to involve themselves in the debate about the future President of Brazil. He is correct: now is the time for us to begin to evaluate Lula’s administration and to define where we want to go, what president we want, what direction, what orientation, what alternative project for Brazil we are seeking.

Were we to analyze the Lula administration, we could say that, despite the two years remaining of his eight years in office, Brazil has advanced in this time, just as it has advanced in these 20 years of democracy.

From the political point-of-view, one can say that President Lula succeeded in assembling an immense mass of Brazilian society with his words, his prestige, his popularity, which is among the highest levels enjoyed by any Brazilian president. That prestige, in the meantime, caused the Brazilian population to regress in consciousness.

From the societal point-of-view, there was an undeniable advance in the programs initiated since the time of President José Sarney – the distribution of milk, the Bolsa-Alimentação (cash transfers for food) and Vale-Alimentação (food stipend), the Vale-Transporte (public-transportation stipend).

This administration, we can say, is highly generous towards the poorest sector of society. That generosity can only be an advance when compared with the traditional selfishness of the Brazilian elite. In a society in need of a much greater leap forward, however, this advance is a modest, limited one. Above all, since this administration was expected to usher in a revolution.

Now, in relation to the economy, President Lula is maintaining a responsible use of resources, continuing the economic policies of the Itamar Franco administration. That sense of responsibility deserves praise. In short, Lula is doubtlessly one of the best presidents Brazil has had, but he is not, as we had hoped, the first in a new historical cycle, as was Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The next president cannot regress. He or she has to go forward. The president must lead us in tearing down the two walls that are hindering the formation of Brazilian civilization: the wall of inequality that divides us here within; and the wall of backwardness that separates us from the other civilized countries.

The choice of the road, the leap forward that we need, demands new, inspirational leadership. We must, therefore, carry out Senator Pedro Simon’s proposal: a long debate over the choice of the candidates, one that includes the voters’ participation from the very start.

So that in the next presidential election the voters will not simply ratify the choice made by the political party machines, by the public-opinion polling institutes and by the media.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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