Brazil - Election 2018
Brazil's political terrain is polarized due to seemingly-endless corruption investigations and a less than lukewarm economic recovery, which has fed into rising crime rates, high insecurity, economic sluggishness, endemic corruption and societal crisis. Over the last two years, the Brazilian currency lost a quarter of its value, the unemployment rate remains above 12 percent and the lack of economic reforms hinders the foreign investments that have helped keep the economy afloat over the last few years.
The economic slowdown and corruption scandals have also deepened a rampant societal crisis across the country, best embodied by the state of Rio de Janeiro. The iconic Brazilian tourist destination, plagued by gangs and violence, was stormed last month by military forces in the hopes of preventing chaos across a region where someone dies every 90 minutes of gun violence and gang rivalries. Brazil is locked in a deep-seated state of hatred, especially against the poor, blacks and leftists – a sentiment aggravated by the ongoing financial crisis. It feels as though every road leads to another military intervention. All over the country, leftist militants and intellectuals are experiencing institutionalized persecution by public sectors.
Former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, confirmed 11 January 2017 that "he is preparing" to run for the presidency in 2018, should it "be necessary." Bearing that his candidacy is not invalidated through a salacious corporate media and lawfare campaign, Lula will, more likely than not, win a third term in office next year. In his first public speech of the year, the politician said he would be traveling the country in 2017 to restore his image and that of his Workers' Party, "which have been criminalized by the press and the justice system." Lula, who served as president of Brazil in 2003-2010, made the remarks at an event of the Landless Workers' Movement in the northern city of Salvador de Bahia. Lula was accompanied by Jaques Wagner, the former chief of staff to impeached President Dilma Rousseff, and the former president of Petrobras, Sergio Gabrielli. In reference to allegations that his opponents may seek a legal injunction to stop him from running through the courts, Lula said that everybody should be able to run for president.
Operation “Car Wash" corruption investigations, kickback schemes, the mere hint that someone uttered “Odebrecht" and non-stop corporate media proclivity for their darling candidates shrouded Brazil's October 2018 presidential election in uncertainty.
That comes without mentioning over a year lost since the country's first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, fell victim to what many observers denote as a parliamentary coup, giving way to senate-imposed President Michel Temer.
His gratuitous term in office, rejected by 88 percent of the people, according to the latest CNI/Ibope poll, is a tipsy walk down memory lane – austerity on steroids, labor reforms, proposed pension reforms, a 20-year cap on public spending, auctioning or sale of Petrobras and other publicly-owned companies and lapdog adherence to the whims of the international market.
Rhetoric of change has convinced few, especially compared to the daily struggle for basic necessities. Even the cost of residential gas cylinders, needed to fire up one's stove to prepare daily meals, had skyrocketed more than 67 percent since August 2017 by the end of the year.
Populism could be the big winner in 2018. Everywhere, endless waves of corruption scandals have destroyed people’s confidence in politics without strengthening their trust in the constitutional state. In Latin America’s two largest national economies, Brazil and Mexico, corruption is also discrediting efforts to implement a more sustainable economic policy that emphasizes self-supporting growth rather than redistribution.
Given the disastrous crisis of confidence in Brazil, what the country really needs first, before it holds elections, is a fundamental reform of the political system. Since the very contentious impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, the political camps have become even more entrenched in their positions. Corruption investigations at the highest level have brought all the major parties into disrepute; President Michel Temer is the most unpopular head of state in the world, with approval ratings that barely scrape five percent.
The only politician who still enjoys a good reputation – among his party faithful at least – is the legendary Lula da Silva. However, he probably won’t be allowed to stand as he too is facing corruption charges. And so it is that the complex, patronage-based Brazilian party system has put Jair Bolsonaro, an unappetizing right-wing populist, homophobic racist and declared supporter of the former military dictatorship, in second place in the opinion polls, right behind former president Lula.
The seeds of Lula's mass popularity began to spawn back in 1968, in broad day of Brazil's military dictatorship, when he joined the Sao Bernardo Metal Workers Union, an organization he considered to be so "boring" that he preferred staying at home watching soap operas.
Elected president of the workers' union in 1975, Lula advocated for workers' rights, organized mass strikes and sought to improve communication within their ranks. Having experienced drought, famine, plagues and abject poverty during his childhood in Brazil's northeastern state of Pernambuco, Lula would never forget his less than humble beginnings, nor working as a shoeshine boy in 1953, when the people of Brazil elected him president in 2003.
What else but a slew of social programs to mark his two terms in office, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the U.N. World Hunger Map. When the World Food Program hailed the country as a champion in the fight against hunger, former Social Development Minister Tereza Campello said, “leaving the Hunger Map is a historic milestone for Brazil."
"We are very proud because overcoming hunger was a priority for the Brazilian state," she added. One of Lula's most ambitious and successful programs was, and still is, the Family Allowance (Bolsa Familia). Launched in 2003, it provides stipends to families living below the poverty line. In turn, those families must prove that their children are attending school and have been vaccinated. Also, his achievements in housing and education pale in comparison to those who ruled the country over the past 500 years.
Jair Bolsonaro is Lula's closest opponent in the 2018 election. In November 2017, during an audio-taped interview with the Financial Times, Bolsonaro took time to note that people enjoyed “total freedom" during the country's military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964-1984, claiming that Brazilians traveled “to Disneyland and returned home."
In 2016, during Rousseff's impeachment vote, he used his congressional speaking time to not only rally in favor of her ouster, but also praise Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the dictatorship's notorious torture program in the 1970s. He cited Ustra as “the source of Dilma Rousseff's dread," referring to the fact that she, as a young woman, was imprisoned for three years for being a leftist guerrilla and suffered torture, including electrocution under his watch.
Dilma maintained her composure before responding. She told reporters that Bolsonaro's remarks were “regrettable," a dignified understatement considering the women who had rats shoved in their vaginas and tortured in other ways during those “dark days" marked by Latin American dictatorships.
Having proposed restoring military rule during his political career, Bolsonaro has also been quoted as saying that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet "should have killed more people." Moreover, he has said, “Women should earn less because they get pregnant" and "I'd be incapable of loving a homosexual son."
Ultimately, the stakes are high when it comes to Brazil's 2018 presidential election. South America's geographic giant is a horse fueling its economic engine, trade and commerce in the broader region and beyond. Uncertainty standing in the way between Lula and his candidacy has mobilized people on the frontlines. Their mission: to regain the narrative of social progress over a debauchery of judicial meddling and a genuine media circus poised to neutralize the country's most popular politician The battle has reached almost messianic proportions, which, in itself, presents dangers in the way of the democratic process.
A regional court in Brazil, which had sentenced former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to 12 years in prison for corruption, rejected 26 March 2018 the appeal request filed by his defense team leaving him one step away from prison as he awaited the ruling of the country’s Supreme Court on 04 April 2018.
Lula topped every presidential election poll, including those conducted by Datafolha, Vox Populi, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana and Ipsos. The March 2018 National Confederation of Transportation/MDA presidential survey revealed that Lula continued to lead the presidential race in every single scenario researched. His two terms in office were marked by a slew of social programs, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the UN World Hunger Map.
The 14 March 2018 murder of Marielle Franco, an activist and local politician, gave many Brazilians reason to fear for their security – especially the country's poor. The fact that such a murder can go unpunished only added fuel to the fire of citizens' mistrust of public institutions.
Army Commander-in-Chief, Eduardo Villas-Boas pressured the court's judges to deliver a negative verdict against the former Brazilian President. 03 April 2018 Villas-Boas stated that the armed forces “rejects impunity" and demands “respect for the Constitution, social peace and democracy." These remarks, which were broadcast by Globo and other corporate media outlets, were sharply criticized by left-wing politicians, who say the comments were meant to intimidate supreme court judges into upholding Lula's corruption conviction.
Brazilian General Luiz Gonzaga Schroeder Lessa told reporters that if the Federal Superior Tribunal did not give the green light to the prison sentence of former President Ignacio Lula da Silva tomorrow, the “only option left would be a military intervention." “The Armed Forces have to restore public order," he told the daily Estadao, claiming that if the Tribunal allowed Lula to remain free during the presidential electoral campaign, this decision will foment violence," a few days after Lula's caravan was repeatedly attacked as he was campaigning for the upcoming elections. General Paulo Chagas affirmed that “we want to avoid that the law changes and that the leader of a criminal organization, sentenced to 12 years in prison, could circulate freely, spreading hate and class struggle."
In September 2017, 48 percent of Brazilians supported another military coup. That number had risen by March 2018 to 74 percent in Rio: "a laboratory to Brazil," according to General Braga Neto. He headed President Temer's military intervention in Rio and was clearly insinuating his intention to militarize the entire country again – no surprise, given recent events and daily life since 2013, when Brazil experienced its 'Spring.'
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can be jailed on corruption charges, the Supreme Court ruled 04 April 2018. The move would apparently block Lula's reelection bid, despite strong public support. The Supreme Federal Court (STF) voted 6-5 to deny Lula's plea and ruled he must start serving a 12-year prison sentence for graft. According to the ruling, Lula may now be arrested at any time and will likely not be allowed to run for president in October. The decision was the latest step in a series of actions in Brazil, which critics of the current government described as a creeping right-wing takeover of the nation's democratic institutions.
The upcoming Brazilian presidential elections became even more uncertain with no candidate clearly breaking away from the pack. Lula’s absence should benefit left-wing candidate Marina Silva who could snag the votes of PT supporters after two unsuccessful runs for the presidency. She was Lula’s former Environment Minister and her tiny green party will be strongly opposed by agribusiness and mining companies throughout the campaign. However, in a country marked by a profound rejection of the political class, symbolized by current President Temer setting new historic records of unpopularity, her chances are now realistic.
By April 2018 Silva trailed behind far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, often labelled the Brazilian version of Donald Trump. His pro-gun, evangelical political platform, marked by a nostalgia for the days of military dictatorship, has drawn the support of the wealthiest segments of Brazilian society and pro-business organisations. Bolsonaro is a defender of Brazil's military dictatorship during the years 1964 to 1985 and has called for reinstating the death penalty. Brazilian voters seldom vote for extremes, whether left or right.
The ultra-conservative Evangelical Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), which is supported by the neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, is part of the coalition which supports the incumbent president, Michel Temer. The party was behind the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Twenty-two percent of Brazil’s population is evangelical, according to official figures, increasing by 61 percent between 2000 and 2012. Marcelo Crivella, the elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro, served as religious pastor of the influential Universal Church of the Kingdom of God which was founded by his uncle Edir Macedo. According to the last Census, Crivella’s congregation numbered 1.87 million faithful. Macedo was cataloged by Forbes magazine as one of the richest men in Brazil in 2015, with a fortune valued at 3,000 million real (about US $1.1 billion), that includes the Record television network, the second most important in the country.
Bolsonaro’s lead in early polls in the absence of Lula, would not guarantee him a victory in a two-round ballot as his positions are too extreme to build alliances with others. Amid this polarisation, no centrist politician seems up for the task of filling the vacuum. Moderate candidates and political veterans such as Geraldo Alckmin and Ciro Gomes have failed to gain any momentum among an electorate disheartened by the never-ending corruption scandals.
Several political newcomers are waiting to formalise their interests. Among them, two names are regularly mentioned as serious options: former Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa and TV celebrity Luciano Huck.
Barbosa has made a name for himself championing the fight against corruption during his tenure at the helm of the Federal Supreme Court. His lack of political experience will be less of an obstacle than the fact that Brazil is probably not ready to elect a black president.
Luciano Huck’s media personality, however, and his main-street appeal match better with the average Brazilian voter despite the absence of a track record. The TV presenter has already denied twice that he’s contemplating a run for the presidency but the constant courting from business circles and his recent statements on the need to fix Brazilian politics have only reaffirmed speculations about his real intentions.