Brazil: Political Scandals Involving Presidential Election Cause Rift in Governing Coalition

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, April 5, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Brazil: Political Scandals Involving Presidential Election Cause Rift in Governing Coalition

By Matthew Flynn

[The author writes for Business News Americas from Sao Paulo.]

The sudden rise in the polls of Roseana Sarney, Partido da Frente Liberal (PFL) pre-candidate for this year's presidential elections, was only matched by her dramatic fall. Federal Police raided a business owned by her and her husband and found US$570,000 in cash that could not be easily explained. Afterward, Roseana, who recently left her post as governor of Maranhao to run in the election, fell from being in a technical tie with poll leader Inacio Lula da Silva, pre- candidate of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), to seven percentage points behind Lula.

Asserting that she was set up, Roseana threatened to withdraw her name from the presidential race unless the PFL broke its alliance with the government, headed by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileiro (PSDB). Roseana and her supporters claim that the police investigation was an operation directed by former health minister Jose Serra, the PSDB's presidential pre-candidate, who has been trailing in the polls.

PFL leaders downplayed the impact of the governing alliance's breakup. "We are not declaring war against the government, just showing our independence," said party president Jorge Bornhausen.

But with PFL ministers and political appointees leaving their posts, legislative activity has ground to a halt. Also, with the breakup of the elite coalition that has governed Brazil during Cardoso's two terms in office, more political infighting could follow.

Roseana's father, former president Sen. Jose Sarney, was the most vehement. "Fernando Henrique destroyed my daughter," he said. "Now I am going to destroy him."

Given recent developments, Brazil's presidential election is bound to be marked by accusations and character assassination, while parties attempt to construct new alliances.

A recent ruling by the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) on how these alliances can be made is also having an impact. The February ruling said that political parties that make alliances at the national level must also have alliances of the same nature at the state and municipal levels. The ruling disrupted months of careful alliance building.

A month later the court added to the ruling, saying that if a party does not have a presidential candidate, it is free to make alliances at the local levels as it desires.

The ruling benefits or punishes parties depending on the composition of their local and national coalitions. Political commentators say the big winners are the PSDB and PT since they are the largest parties with strong presidential candidates and consequently can exchange support either formally or informally with other parties.

"They dragged my name through the mud," said Roseana

Having lost her former political appeal, Roseana Sarney is in the most difficult situation. "Roseana stopped being a new and different alternative, now she's a politician like any other," admitted one of her campaign strategists.

The charismatic governor's response to the scandal also left much to be desired. When national news showed more than a million reales (the local currency) at the Linus company, owned by her and her husband, Roseana hid from the media.

Explanations by company personnel did little to clear any doubt of wrongdoing before Roseana's husband, Jorge Murad, said the money collected was for the governor's presidential bid. Murad, who was responsible for administrating the public money for the governor, was forced to resign.

The damage was already done. Besides irregularities in raising campaign funds, federal prosecutors are investigating links that Roseana and her husband might have with corruption scandals that have surrounded the defunct Superintendencia da Amazonia (Sudam). Cases of fraud at the regional development agency have brought down other politicians [see Notisur, 2001- 05-11, 2001-09-28]

Even though Roseana's drop in the polls appears to have bottomed out and she still retains the support of her party, PFL leaders are contemplating bringing in a new candidate.

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