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Brazilian Presidential Candidate Marina’s Decision: The Biggest Loss of All

Presidential candidate Marina Silva Green Party presidential candidate Marina Silva has decided to abstain from endorsing either of the second round candidates, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) or José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB). This deft decision provides tacit support for Dilma, but without any of the political benefits to her new political party, her voters and supporters, or the nation as a whole. Marina’s decision may prove to be the biggest loss of all.

Make no mistake; abstentions from the democratic electoral process necessarily contribute to the election of the winning candidate. In this case, Marina chose to avoid the “dirty,” but essentially democratic deal making of the second round to sustain her programmatic message of environmental protection and sustainable development.

However, even this decision has measurable consequences that will impact the second round voting in important ways that she could expect. Serra cannot overtake Dilma’s commanding lead in the first round voting without a massive migration of Marina’s voters to his ticket in the second round on October 31.

Do the math; Serra needs more than 14.5 million more votes to eclipse Dilma’s first round performance; or nearly 74 percent of Marina’s voters to join his ranks. According to DataFolha’s Oct. 21 opinion poll, only 46 percent of Marina’s voters intend to vote for Serra, five points less than the week before.

It is unlikely that Serra can attract enough second round support given Marina’s long and distinguished history with the PT and service as Minister of the Environment (2003-2008) under much of President Lula’s successful government. Moreover, it is improbable that Dilma’s voters will flip for Serra down the stretch, despite efforts by Veja and the Folha de S. Paulo to exaggerate scandals associated with Dilma’s replacement as Minister of the Casa Civil (chief of staff) of the Presidency.

Indeed, as the Green Party Vice-President Alfredo Sirkis points out, Dilma’s response to Marina’s open letter to both candidates identified a high level of compatibility between the two candidates’ environmental and social policy proposals, with a few notable exceptions including Dilma’s opposition to the establishment of a regulatory agency to enforce the national climate change policy.

Serra did not even respond, allowing PSDB President Sergio Guerra to invite the Greens to collaborate while noting his less than convincing short list of policy convergence. A neutral observer could conclude that important elements of Serra’s own electoral coalition would reject any “pragmatic” deal to incorporate Marina and the Greens into the campaign or a would be Serra administration in 2011.

Marina defended her decision by arguing that both the PT and PSDB have submerged Brazilian democracy into a shallow pragmatism that impoverishes the policy debate and suffocates the construction of a peaceful political culture centered on fusing different and sometimes divergent visions and policy prescriptions to achieve the public interest.

Speaking for the Green party, Sirkis states, “We refuse to participate in the second round’s negotiations where candidates promise governmental offices and influence in exchange for electoral support. Rather, we will try to steer the second round toward a debate on government programs and policy platforms.”

Yet, it is not clear that either Marina or her Green party have really side stepped the deal making of electoral democracy altogether. The Green party’s performance in federal congressional elections was disappointing given Marina’s strong third place finish. In all, the party only increased its number of federal deputies from 14 to 15 (out of 513 total) and failed to elect one senator (and lost Marina Silva’s seat to the campaign).

Therefore, the Green party had little to offer either one of the candidates at the federal legislative level, but could have amplified the influence of its small caucus by directly participating in either one of the second round campaigns.

Of course this raises the question; did either Dilma or Serra even want the Greens in their respective political coalitions? The decision to abstain now allows each individual Green party legislator to cut his or her own deals within the Chamber of Deputies and with the executive branch, but without the transparency or accountability inherent to an official party endorsement.

Marina’s decision and her open letter encouraging both candidates to adopt her message (as Senator Cristovam Buarque reports in Brazzil’s piece “Instead of Hoping for Marina’s Nod Brazil Candidates Should Fulfill Marina’s Hopes” ) is as pragmatic as those of her first round adversaries, although without the scrutiny or transparency.

Without a strong Green party caucus in the congress, Marina made a personal-political decision to rise above the second round fray in hopes of exalting her national leadership for future opportunities that have less to do with her party than with her own personal-political aspirations.

Remember, despite Marina’s electoral popularity the Green party did not make commensurate advances at the national level. It is critical to note that Marina and the Green party provide important scientific and policy expertise for a host of environmental and development issues at every level of Brazilian government. However, Marina’s decision to abstain further marginalizes this small, but critical policy leadership group from the national policymaking processes associated with environmental protection, sustainable development, and yes, even political reform!

In this sense, Marina’s decision was a pragmatic one, not on behalf of her party or nation, but for her own future political opportunities. By abstaining she leaves the door open to making her own deal, without the limelight or fanfare, at a place and time of her own choosing. She should not be criticized for this move, but neither should Dilma or Serra be criticized for such deal making to construct a winning electoral margin and governing coalition.

Marina has a bright future, albeit uncertain at this juncture. The Green party will play a tertiary role in legislative policymaking. Dilma will win the second round and her government will demonstrate an incremental and determined approach to balancing the need for economic growth with the demand for environmental protection.

Serra will lose the presidential race for the second time. But the biggest loss is Marina’s decision to play it deft and pragmatic for herself without strengthening her party or the policymaking process after all the votes are counted.

Mark S. Langevin, Ph.D. is Director of BrazilWorks (www.BrazilWorks.org), Associate Researcher at the Centro Universitário de Brasília (UniCEUB), adjunct Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland-University College, and regular contributor to Brazzil and the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor. He can be reached at Mark.brazilworks@gmail.com.

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