Left advances in Brazil, runoff elections scheduled

dilma after election

As expected, the presidential candidate of the left-wing Workers Party, Dilma Rousseff, racked up the largest vote total in Brazil's Sunday presidential election. However, she barely missed the 50 percent mark necessary to avoid a runoff, due mostly to an unexpected surge in support for Green Party candidate Marina Silva. Consequently, Rouseff will face an October 31, runoff against Jose Serra of the right-wing Brazilian Social Democratic Party.

The vote total, with nearly all votes counted, gave Rousseff 46.3 percent of the vote, less than the 51 to 53 percent polls were predicting. Serra took 32.93 percent, while the Greens' candidate, Marina Silva, got 19.7 percent.

Brazil has two Communist Parties. While one, the Brazilian Communist Party, ran its own candidate, the other, the Communist Party of Brazil, supported Rousseff, as did the Socialist and other parties of the left and center.

Rousseff started her political life in armed struggle against the 1964 to 1985 U.S.-backed military dictatorship, and then served in various posts, including as chief of staff to current President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva but never held electoral office before. In fact, she was a relative unknown going into the campaign. But Lula, a former labor leader, is so wildly popular that Rousseff's association with him quickly brought her the mass support needed to outrun Serra.

The last-minute surge for Marina Silva was the big surprise. She had been Minister of the Environment in Silva's government but resigned, switched from the Workers Party to the Greens, and launched her own candidacy. She argued that Lula's government was giving too much emphasis to industrial and commercial development to the exclusion of environmental and sustainability concerns. But the surge for Marina Silva may be related to a last minute, though rather minor, scandal in the ruling party or her strongly anti-abortion stance, which may have won support in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The left and center also made advances in legislative and gubernatorial elections. In the Senate, where 54 of the 81 seats were up for election, the coalition that supported Lula and Rousseff may have won enough votes to make constitutional changes. In the Chamber of Deputies, the 513-member lower house, the right lost heavily and the left advanced.

The two big questions now are: What will happen in the runoff on October 31, and, assuming Rousseff can win that, will she be able to put together a more cohesive coalition government than the one through which Lula has had to rule? The heterogeneous nature of that coalition has sometimes caused Lula problems.

At writing, both Rousseff and Serra appeared to be courting Marina Silva for her support in the runoff, and the Greens' base appears to be split on the issue.

The U.S. and international press have been saying that there is little difference between the platforms Rousseff and Serra. During Lula's time in office, Brazil has been prosperous, and millions have been pulled out of poverty by his government's social programs. This has made his government extremely popular, and so Serra has been cautious about calling for radical changes in domestic policy.

On foreign policy, however, there is a big distinction. Lula's Brazil has also played a leading role in the movement to break the Latin American and Caribbean area away from U.S. hegemony. For example, the president has been supportive of the left-wing governments of Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, and Brazil played a heroic role with respect to the 2009 Honduran military coup, permitting the overthrown left-wing president, Manuel Zelaya, to take refuge in the Brazilian embassy and, working at cross purposes with sections of the U.S. leadership, to block automatic recognition of the government of Porfirio Lobo. Serra has suggested that he will not continue this policy, and his vice presidential candidate redbaited Rousseff with false claims that she had "ties to the FARC," the left-wing Colombian guerrilla army.

Other presidential candidates' totals were:
• Plinio Arruda from a group that split from the Workers'Party: 0.89%
• Jose Maria Eymael of the Christian Social Democrats: 0.09 percent
• Ze Maria of the Trotskyist United Socialist Workers Party: 0.08 percent
• Levy Fidelix of the centrist PRTB: 0.06 percent
• Ivan Pineiro of the Brazilian Communist Party: 0.04 percent
• Rui Costa Pimenta of PCO, another Trotskyist party: 0.01 percent.

Photo: Dilma Rousseff after first round of elections. http://www.dilma13.com.br CC 2.0