Brazil Politics: Three Cheers for Marina Silva!

Marina Silva Welcome back Marina Silva! By announcing her resignation from the Workers Party (PT), she has paved the way to become the candidate of the Green Party (PV) in next year’s presidential election. The fact that Silva, a former environment minister, has no chance of winning is less important than the effect of her announcement.

This has stirred life into what looked like a two-horse race between President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s candidate, Dilma Rousseff, and the likely PSDB candidate, José Serra, the governor of São Paulo. It also increases the chances of other candidates, like Ciro Gomes of the PSB, standing and means there is now a greater chance of the election going into a second round.

Marina Silva could attract the support of a broad range of voters who are attracted not so much by her leftist policies as her image and vote for her as a protest. The more traditional element of the PT which has still not accepted having Rousseff imposed on it in dictatorial fashion by Lula could be tempted by her even though she has deserted the party of which she was a member for more than 20 years.

These PT dissidents are also fed up seeing Lula stand up for the Senate chairman, José Sarney of the PMDB, who has been at the center of a scandal for months over allegations of nepotism and corruption.

Voters who are just sick to death of the endless corruption and venality that has been flowing out of the Senate this year will see her as one of the few untainted members. She resigned as Lula’s environment minister in 2008 because she believed the economic growth policies being driven by Rousseff were overriding threats to the environment.

Women voters who are put off by Rousseff’s rather harsh image as a humorless former guerrilla could go for Silva’s more feminine approach. Her family background – one of 11 children born of poor Northeastern migrants in the Amazon state of Acre – will appeal the millions of Northeasters still in their home states and those scattered across southern Brazil.

She is also a born-again Christian which is a strong card even in a country as Catholic as Brazil where millions have turned their back on the church of Rome and joined evangelical churches. Furthermore, Silva has good contacts among social groups at home and abroad. Add to this the possibility that her running mate could be singer Gilberto Gil, a former culture minister, and you have all the ingredients for a fascinating – and entertaining – contest.

Serra must be delighted by this development as he is the current leader in opinion polls and Rousseff is still lagging far behind. If she has to fend off Silva and perhaps Gomes, both of whom will push a more “leftist” agenda, then her task will be harder even with Lula’s support.           

Despite all these points, Silva will still face enormous problems and could easily end up like another woman candidate, Senator Heloísa Helena, who hit the headlines after leaving the PT and standing as the presidential candidate for the breakaway PSOL party.

Many people found her a refreshing change, even although they did not back her policies, but she made little impression in the presidential campaign and has virtually disappeared from view.

One big problem is that the PV is very small and only has a handful of members. It is virtually invisible as a party and only has a couple of big names, such as Fernando Gabeira who performed well when he stood as mayor for Rio de Janeiro in the last elections.

The other “big” name just happens to be a “Sarney”  –  Sarney Filho, the son of the beleaguered senate chairman who is also a former environment minister. This shows that the party is not ideological and it has made no impression on the public even considering Brazil’s enormous presence in issues environmental.

Its tiny size also means it has very little access to the free television and radio advertising which parties are entitled to at election time. This means Silva will have to link up with one or more of the bigger parties to gain more air time.

Finally, despite her five years as environment minister, Silva just does not seem wily or tough enough to cope with the responsibilities of being president of a country as complicated as Brazil where the political system means that there is no room for the kind of idealism she conveys.

After all a president cannot resign just because things are not going his – or her – way.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicações. This article originally appeared on his site www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

© John Fitzpatrick 2009

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