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The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

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Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

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