O CEBRI sediou a IV Reunião Hemisférica dos Conselhos de Relações Internacionais, nos dias 8 e 9 de maio de 2006, cuja proposta é fortalecer e consolidar o diálogo e a cooperação entre a rede dos Conselhos. O encontro reuniu representantes dos conselhos argentino, brasileiro, canadense, chileno, mexicano, paraguaio, estadunidense e uruguaio que debateram o tema "Segurança Regional, pela ótica das mudanças políticas na América Latina" . O CEBRI convidou o cientista político, Sérgio Abranches, para proferir palestra, em inglês, no jantar de boas-vindas oferecido aos convidados. Abranches fez um panorama geral do cenário pré-eleitoral brasileiro, que segue abaixo.
BRAZILIAN ELECTIONS: A PREVIEW
The pre-electoral scenario shows the marks of volatility and uncertainty. Parties will only register candidates by the end of June. The official campaign starts in July.
At the same time, President Lula faces a governance crisis that began at the end of 2003, had its peak last year, and has recently become milder but has not yet been resolved. The main opposition candidate Geraldo Alckmin is under political stress due to his flat public support and lack of initiative.
The phase prior to the beginning of the official campaign on TV is a difficult one, demanding very much of the candidates´ personal skills. Any wrong movement can have very negative consequences.
Former Rio de Janeiro governor, Anthony Garotinho's hunger strike, for instance, is likely, to prevent him from getting his candidacy approved at PMDB's convention. It was the wrong answer to accusations of use of public money to fund his pre-campaign efforts. Former president Itamar Franco has not yet convinced the party that he is indeed seeking the candidacy. We don't know whether the party will have a candidate. What PMDB will do is a question of major importance to the dynamics of the electoral scenario.
PSDB's candidate Geraldo Alckmin's silence about the government's major flaws is preventing him from getting the attention of opposition voters. His weak response to doubts about his correct behavior when in government has created the risk that he is placed by voters in the "more of the same" category. Alckmin has apparently chosen not to be a part of the present political debate. He is probably waiting to become a major player only at the start of the official campaign.
This "more of the same" view of politics strengthens the likelihood of Lula's reelection par default, due to the lack of a real, effective and differentiated alternative. With this attitude Alckmin fails to induce the polarization required to make him the anti-Lula alternative. Besides, he has to pass a major obstacle to become a competitive player: to reduce Lula's advantage in the Northeastern region. The last polls show a gap of roughly 25 million votes between Lula and Alckmin, 15 million of which are in the northeastern region. Regional cleavages explain the lack of trust in candidates coming from São Paulo, among northeastern voters.
In the southeastern region, the country's major Electoral College, Alckmin is also lagging behind. He will likely improve his position there but even if he takes the lead it will not be strong enough to offset this difference.
President's Lula situation regarding his plea for reelection is not totally comfortable yet in spite of all these advantages. He has his own problems as well. But he moved from a scenario in which he was clearly facing the threat of defeat to one where he has become the isolated frontrunner. In that he has been helped by the economy's very favorable performance, especially the increase of real disposable income, which has a direct effect on people's support for the incumbent president.
He also has the advantage given by a bias towards reelection in Brazil. On average 70% of incumbent governors seeking reelection have succeeded, and about half of the incumbent mayors have also got reelected, over the last two respective electoral periods. If voters see electoral choices confined to a business as usual, more of the same set of candidacies they tend to vote for reelection.
In spite of the positive effect of the economy on the president's popular support, it has been smaller than expected due to his evaluation on personal grounds. Only 37% of the voters say his is doing a good job in government and 45% approve his personal performance. As a correlate 33% say they would never vote for him. Technically this means that his plea for reelection is highly contestable. His favoritism is given by the lack of strength and clear view from the opposition. The scenario is pointing to a reelection par default.
The opposition retreated from a frontal personal attack against the president in the second half of last year, when corruption investigations were clearly designing a scenario in which impeachment procedures might become unavoidable. The opposition leadership feared an institutional crisis as well as that open support for the impeachment of the president could backfire.
Right now only a political hurricane could shift electoral winds from the reelection scenario. So far there are only faint signs of the political warming necessary to produce high intensity political hurricanes. The opposition seems to have lost the political hurricane season.
Reelection could mean electing a lame-duck president. PT may face heavy losses in the parliamentary elections. President Lula may not be able to form a majority working coalition, even getting the support of the majority of PMDB's congressmen. Having no clear political heir he will be seen as power past by the major political forces, that will be attracted by more promising forces. These would be found only in the opposition and very likely polarized by the São Paulo and Minas Gerais governments if they go to José Serra and Aécio Neves, a most likely outcome.
Failing to gain the support of an organic, working majority coalition, President Lula will inaugurate his second term facing an aggravating crisis of governance that can have dire consequences to him and the country.
He may feel compelled to fully adhere to the populist front that has been forming in South America and try to confront the majority parliamentary opposition with a direct appeal to social movements and the dispossessed. A move that in Brazil would be short-lived and lead to a dangerous institutional stalemate.
Jorge Castañeda has recently divided the Latin American left into the wrong left of the populists, like Chávez, and Evo Morales, and the right left of Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva. But I think he failed to fully understand Lula's political personality. Lula is a populist that adhered to monetary orthodoxy. He certainly has a more complex political personality than Chávez or Morales. He could be seen as in between these two lefts. But Since the end of 2004 he has been closer to the populist tradition. Over the last two years the government has been slipping into fiscal populism. His foreign policy has also several elements of populism. His social policy has maintained the strong populist underpinning typical of the Zero Hunger project, even after it was replaced by more focused income transfer programs as the main vehicle for poverty relief.
His response to the crisis provoked by the Bolivian nationalization of gas production has shown the contamination of diplomacy by partisanship. Petrobrás will likely absorb the attendant price increase and subsidize corporate and household consumers, at least during the electoral period.
The crisis of governance has already had visible consequences: low levels of foreign direct investment, a sharp reduction of business confidence as far as direct investors or real economy activities are concerned in sharp contrast with the low risk views of financial markets, a logistical collapse, and a probable energy collapse if the economy keeps growing for the next couple of years.
Brazil's governance regime is what I call presidential coalition government. The president's party is unable to gain the majority in any of the Houses of Congress. The only exception to this rule has been president Dutra, elected right after Vargas dictatorship and World War II, under exceptional circumstances.
The president needs to build a majority multiparty coalition after the election to be able to govern. In Brazil, Congress has a far greater veto power over Executive matters than in the US, where a president can succeed in spite of being in a minority in Congress. Not in Brazil where all major public policy and any institutional reform requires the support of a multiparty parliamentary majority. This requirement makes the president's parliamentary political ability critical to the success of his administration.
During his first term, President Lula has shown no talent or taste for parliamentary politics. Lula's party has also had a very poor parliamentary performance. This double failure in parliamentary political negotiation has apparently led the government to resort to political bribery and corruption to lure politicians into its support.
At the same time, the president was a poor arbiter of conflict among his ministers and advisors, adding administrative underperformance to political shortcomings in shaping the ongoing crisis of governance. I dare to say that in foreign affairs we have also had a very poor record. The crisis with Bolivia is perhaps only the climax.
Brazil has lost ground and leadership in global affairs. Let me keep to one example in an area I deem of paramount significance: climate diplomacy. The dismal performance of Brazil in the Buenos Aires and Montréal meetings of the parties to the Climate Convention compares badly with our leading role in the Rio 92 meeting and in the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol.
I have never seen in political history a President that ends his first term lacking in performance and already facing a governance crisis to react correctly, to recover his steering capabilities and have a good performance on his second term. Usually he resorts to extreme actions in order to compensate for his lack of means and support to run the government.
So far the electoral situation points to the likely reelection of the president and possibly to the continuity and deepening of the present crisis of governance. Things can change very fast in Brazil though. They have changed very fast in Brazil over and over. Perhaps we have good prospects yet invisible in the horizon of our possibilities. Usually, like in the savannas around Brasilia, all that is needed to set a ravaging fire that dramatically changes the environment is just a spark.
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