Herald: A test of stress for democracy in Brazil

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A test of stress for democracy in Brazil

30 Sep 2018 05:24am IST

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30 Sep 2018 05:24am IST

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Brazil votes for a new President on Oct 7. Being a BRICS country, its external policy is relevant for shaping international relationships including that with India, AUROBINDO XAVIER finds out more

About 140 million Brazilian voters will go to the polls on October 7 to choose a new Brazilian president. Brazil has, unlike India, a presidential system and the president is both, head of state and head of government. 

The election, considered the most polarized since the end of military rule 30 years ago, is raising concerns about the future. The electorate remains skeptical of the political class. Unprecedented and continued revelations of political corruption with the subsequent imprisonment of leading political figures and businessmen contributed to the fatal discredit of the parties. “As a matter of fact moderate parties entirely collapsed and paved the way to radical politicians whose commitments are not clear. This election will be a test of stress for democracy in Brazil,” said Nelson Gomes, professor emeritus at the University of BrasíliaUnB.

Rising crime rates and violence against women are the central issues of politics in Brazil. According to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security (FBSP - FórumBrasileiro de SegurançaPública), an independent organization that tracks national crime statistics 63,880 people were killed in 2017. 

Aside from security policies, the future president must also tackle the issue of the country’s flailing economy. Brazilian economy continues to struggle with unemployment (12%) and the austerity cuts imposed by the current government. According to figures from the Central Bank, economic growth for this year has recently been reduced to 1.6% and continues to diminish.

“The general election presents itself as crucial for the country’s future. Amidst the uncertainties and perplexities, radical changes in the management of public affairs are required. This demands from the government to review the basic principles of the economy such as extinguishing the immense public deficit, aggravated by spending more than there is collected,” said Marcos Formiga, an economist, professor at the University of BrasíliaUnB. “Deep reforms of taxes, social security, politics, agrarian and urban legislation call for urgency,” he added.

Thirteen candidates for the first round of the election

There are thirteen candidates for the first round of the election on October 7. If none of the candidates achieves at least 50 per cent in the first round the two candidates with the highest votes will take part in a second-round runoff on October 28.

Following the polls the front-runner for the first round is Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party (PSL- Partido Social Liberal) a controversial far-right conservative nationalist congressman and former army captain. Bolsonaro’s conservative vision is well reflected on his campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything, God above everyone” (Brasil acima de tudo, Deus acima de todos). Bolsonaro’s focus on law and order, his promise to fight against Brazil’s epidemic of violent crime and his call for chemical castration of rapists of women helped him to be in pole position. Bolsonaro, who at the beginning of September on a campaign rally in the city of Juiz de Fora in southeast Brazil was stabbed in the stomach and nearly killed, is since then forging ahead in the polls. Bolsonaro will probably receive more votes than any other candidate and go through to the run-off on October 28.

The problem now is which one of the other 12 candidates will join Bolsonaro. Just behind him are three candidates competing for the second spot: Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT- Partido dos Trabalhadores), Ciro Gomes of the left-wing Democratic Labour Party (PDT- Partido Democrático Trabalhista) and Geraldo Alckmin of a centrist party (PSDB - Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira).

Recent polls suggest that Brazil’s leftist Haddad has the best chances to be the contender to Bolsonaro for the second spot. Haddad was named as the Workers’ Party candidate after ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was declared ineligible by court. The 72-year-old Lula, tremendously popular especially in the north-east of the country, is now serving a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering charges.

Ciro Gomes, a former minister in the government, and Geraldo Alckmin, a favorite of the country’s business class, are still fighting to reach the second spot.

The problem of Bolsonaro’s main contenders is that they are somehow involved in corruption whereas Bolsonaro has never been charged with corruption.

Alckmin, who likes to portray himself as an efficient manager, was accused by Brazilian state prosecutors of taking $2.4 million from Odebrecht SA, a scandal-plagued construction conglomerate, in illegal campaign funding when he was governor of the state of São Paulo elected in 2010 and reelected 2014.

Haddad was charged with corruption by the São Paulo Public Prosecutor’s Office. The accusation included alleged payments of $2.6 million by the construction conglomerate UTC Participações related to debts made by Haddad’s campaign for mayor of São Paulo in 2012. 

Brazil the sleeping giant

Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America and the world’s ninth largest economy by nominal GDP and the seventh largest by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Brazil is one of the countries referred to as BRICS, together with Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which are regarded as the five primary emerging global economies. Therefore external policy of Brazil is relevant for shaping international relationships including that with India. 

“Despite the economic weakening, the importance of Brazil in the world scenario is considerable and will continue so. Thus the 2018 elections are very important for the international relations, while opening the possibility of changes in the external sector,” said Jean Carlo Viterbo, Director of Brazil India Chamber of Commerce, São Paulo. 

People in Brazil want a change, an alternative in power which is able to tackle the violent crime, the unemployment and the rampant political corruption. Whoever becomes president is set to have a difficult task on his hands.

(The writer is President of LSG - Lusophone Society of Goa)
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