Although José Serra is acknowledged to have done
a good job as health minister he is not well
as a balding, middle-aged man, cannot compare
with the glamorous Roseana Sarney.
Politics in Brazil this year will be dominated by October’s presidential election when voters will give their verdict on
Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s terms of office. The chances are they will vote for continuity rather than radical change.
The stage is being set for a choice between a continuation of the market-friendly social democratic policies of the
Cardoso era, which have opened the economy and reduced state intervention, and a more radical approach which would
strengthen the role of the state and be less welcoming to foreign investors or institutions like the International Monetary Fund.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso is constitutionally unable to run again and neither his PSDB party (Partido da
Social Democracia Brasileira—Brazilian Social Democracy Party) nor the other two main parties in the governing coalition, the
PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro—Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) and the PFL (Partido da Frente
Liberal—Party of the Liberal Front), is strong enough to field a candidate on its own. This means that the governing parties will
have to reach some kind of agreement on who will be the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The next few months
will see much maneuvering as the parties aw6kxtle for influence and power.
Currently the PFL is in a strong position as its potential candidate, Roseana Sarney, is soaring high in the opinion
polls, well ahead of the presumed PSDB candidate, health minister José Serra. Until recently it was assumed that Serra would
be the government candidate but Sarney’s sudden meteoric rise has cast doubts on this.
While Sarney has been receiving ratings of 20 percent to 30 percent in opinion polls Serra has been languishing in
the 5 percent range. Although he is acknowledged to have done a good job as health minister Serra is not well known and,
as a balding, middle-aged man, cannot compare with the glamorous Roseana Sarney. She is governor of the state of
Maranhão and has a high name recognition. (Her father Senator José Sarney is a former President.)
While the PFL has been pushing Roseana Sarney, the PSDB is split over who its candidate should be. Serra’s main
rival is Tasso Jereissati, the governor of Ceará, who recently said he would not be a candidate. However, Jereissati is
believed to be hankering for the presidency and would be ready to step in should Serra falter.
Another possible PSDB candidate is the leader of the House of Representatives, Aécio Neves, who has done a good
job in just one year and overseen the passing of several groundbreaking laws. Neves also comes from a prominent political
family and his grandfather, Tancredo Neves, was the first civilian president after military rule. He died before taking office and
it was his vice president, none other than José Sarney, who took over. Aécio Neves is probably a bit young to be a candidate this time round but he is a standby.
Despite all this, the undisputed leader in the opinion polls is the left-wing Workers Party’s veteran leader, Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula faces no credible opposition and will probably be the PT’s candidate. At the moment he has rating of
around 30 percent and has been on top for months. He has national recognition, a well-organized party across the country and,
most importantly, a political agenda.
Whereas the other parties are part of the government and cannot distance themselves too much from Cardoso, Lula
has carte blanche. He is beholden to no-one and his message is simple—the government should act to end the disgraceful
social divide between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated.
The problem is that voters have heard all this before and on three previous occasions have voted against Lula. This
will be his fourth time as a presidential candidate and he shows few signs of having learned from his previous defeats.
He still clings to the outdated socialist methods and ideas which have failed. He makes regular trips to Cuba and
attacks the IMF and globalization. He recently appeared to condone the looting in Argentina by saying the looters were just
copying the IMF which had been looting the country for 10 years.
Lula’s party is also not particularly democratic. The only prominent PT politician to challenge Lula as a possible
candidate, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, has been thwarted in his efforts to have primary elections to choose the candidate.
Lula’s chances will improve if the Brazilian economy suffers setbacks in the coming year and he can persuade voters
that his policies will be better. However, Brazilians are not natural radicals and the Cardoso years have definitely improved
the lot of most people. The main success was the Real Plan which ended years of hyperinflation and brought in price stability.
The collapse of Argentina, where in two weeks we have seen two presidents resign, could also benefit the
government candidate. The political and economic chaos Brazilians have witnessed in their southern neighbor must make them feel relieved
that, for once, they are out of the action. This was not always the case and it is only in recent months that Brazil has managed
to uncouple itself from Argentina in the eyes of foreign investors.
Argentina could still pose a threat but the Brazilian economy has sound fundamentals and is in a strong position to
resist further pressure. A steady hand on the wheel by the new captain rather than a radical change of course is probably what
most Brazilians want and, barring exceptional circumstances, the government candidate will be assuming office in a year’s time.
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