Brazil: With Presidential Elections Less Than a Year Away, Candidates & Parties Scramble for Position

By Flynn, Matthew | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, December 7, 2001 | Go to article overview

Brazil: With Presidential Elections Less Than a Year Away, Candidates & Parties Scramble for Position


Flynn, Matthew, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


By Matthew Flynn

[The author writes for the International Weekly Edition of the Gazeta Mercantil, a Sao Paulo-based financial newspaper.]

With Brazil's October 2002 presidential elections less than a year away, presidential candidates, political parties, and power brokers are jockeying for position. While President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's Partido Social Democrata Brasileiro (PSDB) would like to continue its hold on the presidency, it must contend with the spectacular rise of Roseana Sarney, daughter of ex-president Jose Sarney (1985-1990) and presidential hopeful of the Partido do Frente Liberal (PFL), which is part of the governing coalition.

Roseana Sarney's jump in the polls has forced Cardoso to admit that the governing coalition's candidate might not come from the PSDB. "My candidate is whoever has the best chance to unite forces to gain the election through alliances with other parties," he said. "If Brazil wants a woman's touch, it's a good thing."

In just over two months, Sarney leapt from obscurity to challenge poll leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the eternal presidential hopeful of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), who has fallen short in three previous runoff elections. Nonetheless, Lula and other opposition candidates remain confident that they have a strong chance of taking the reins of power because people's confidence in the governing coalition has dropped as a result of energy rationing and sluggish economic growth.

Sarney's rise coincides with problems in governing coalition

Even PFL leaders were surprised by the dramatic rise of Roseana Sarney, governor of the northern state of Maranhao. Without a strong party member to take the place of Vice President Marco Marciel of the PFL, party strategists decided to dedicate the majority of the party's free airtime to her in a move that bordered on infringing on federal campaign regulations.

But the strategy worked, and the party is in a stronger position to negotiate with other alliance partners. In a voter-preference poll by Ibope in November, Sarney was the choice of 17% of respondents, behind Lula who had 30% and eight points ahead of Ciro Gomes from the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS)--a significant jump from the single digits she received just two months before.

"Among the candidates, I would vote for Roseana because her presentation on TV is good, but then again it is [TV network] Globo that ends up choosing the candidate," said Gisele Campos, a student in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais state.

In a poll by Instituto Vox Populi, when the name of Health Minister Jose Serra was not included in the poll, voter preference put Sarney in a technical tie with Lula (26% vs. 28%, respectively).

Sarney's rise in the polls is having a strong effect on how alliances are being formed within the governing coalition--made up of the PSDB, PFL, Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro (PMDB), and several smaller parties, plus different factions within those parties.

A few months ago, most attention concerning the coalition's candidate focused on the rivalry between two PSDB hopefuls, Serra and Ceara Gov. Tasso Jereissati. The rivalry, which also involves other PSDB names like Aecio Neves, speaker of the lower house, and Paulo Renato, minister of education, continues, but some realignments can already be observed, especially since neither Serra, said to be Cardoso's favorite, nor Tasso has made significant progress in the polls.

With the exit of PFL strongman Antonio Carlos Magalhaes from the Senate's presidency (see NotiSur, 2001-09-28) and his failure to handpick a successor, the PSDB began to move closer to the PMDB, which now holds the seat. The growing alliance benefitted Serra, who has more allies in the party than Tasso, who has cross-party support from the PFL camp. Now Tasso and Sarney have been meeting to discuss campaign strategies, and the former president is pushing the name of his daughter within his party. …

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