Brazil: Elections – Lula fails to win on the first round

The final result of the first round of the Brazilian elections was a terrible shock for Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, the candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT). Lula, the PT and polling organisations together with almost of the press and media were expecting a clear cut victory for Lula on the first round.

But with 48,61% of the valid votes (disregarding blanks and nulls) won by the coalition led by the PT was not sufficient. Lula will have to go into a second round on October 29th against Geraldo Alckmin, ex-governor of São Paulo state and candidate for PSDB (Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy), who got 41,64% of the votes on the first round.

One important factor on the electoral scene was the winning of 6,85% of the valid votes (more than 6,5 million votes) by the senator Heloísa Helena of PSOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty), a new left party founded in 2004. P-SOL fought this election as part of a Left Front which included the PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party) and PCB (Brazilian Communist Party). The former Minister of Education in Lula’s government and also senator, Cristóvam Buarque, was also a candidate for the PDT (Democratic Labour Party) and won 2,64% of the valid votes.

During the last two weeks of the campaign, the support for Lula was affected by new corruption scandals involving the party leadership which were compared with Nixon’s Watergate scandal in the USA. The Federal Police arrested members of the PT when they were trying to pay members of a criminal gang specialising in stealing public money. They were caught paying 1,7 million ’reais’ (800,000 US dollars) for an alleged dossier connecting the PSDB and the previous government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso to corruption schemes. In this case, the scandal, known as "leeches" involved overcharging ambulances sold to municipal governments, with the involvement of MPs, the health department and a company set up by the criminals.

Despite the involvement of the Lula government in the "leech" case, the dossier was going to be used to weaken the PSDB’s presidential candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, and the candidate for governor in São Paulo state, José Serra. Serra was Minister of Health during Cardoso’s government. But, it was a shot in the foot. Alckmin ended up getting more votes which has led to a second round. Serra won in the first round in the election in São Paulo, gaining 57,93% of the valid votes, compared with 31,68% for PT’s candidate, Aloíso Mercadante.

The broadcasting of piles and piles of bank noted with PT members, the fact that the origin of the money is still not explained together with Lula’s non-attendance at debates on TV because he was incapable of explaining what happened, ended the chances of a first round victory. The "dossiergate" has already led to the resignation of PT’s national chair, Ricardo Berzoini, as main organizer of Lula’s campaign, along with that of the main organizers of PT’s campaign in São Paulo state, Hamilton Lacerda. They add their names to a growing list of high-ranking PT leaders and ministers that have resigned because of corruption scandals.

A neo-liberal government

The Lula government went through a profound political crisis during 2005 due to corruption scandals. At the height of the crisis, the government only managed to survive because the right-wing opposition feared the situation would get out of hand, implicate themselves and provoke an even deeper crisis in the entire political regime. Moreover, the main lines of the financial policies of Lula’s government (budget cuts to pay the public debt to the bankers) and neo-liberal reforms were serving the interests of the ruling class. The ruling elite was very pleased with the PT government.

PSDB’s strategy was to badly wound Lula and the PT but ‘not to kill’ and then to defeat them in the elections this year. The ex-president, Cardoso, admitted publicly that this was PSDB’s main mistake was that it gave Lula the opportunity to recover. Internal splits within the PSDB and the weakness of their presidential candidate also contributed to make a first round victory for Lula a real possibility.

Lula also made heavy use of the huge advantages provided by the political system to the incumbent president who wants to get re-elected.

Moreover, Lula’s government adopted a conscious policy of creating an electoral base, based on government handouts. The "family allowance" and others measures won it support. Spending 2,5 billion US dollars per year, giving on average 30 dollars per month to roughly 8 million families of the poorest families (more than 30 million people); Lula managed to build an electoral base among the poorest and less organised layers of the Brazilian society, especially on the north-eastern region of the country.

At the same time, the government adopted a financial policy that favoured the financial sector and hampered economical growth, creation of jobs and wage increases for workers. With the highest interest rates in the world and payment of the public debt strictly on time, the banks have never made such profits as during Lula’s government. To show their appreciation, they became the biggest financial backers of his election campaign – paying more money to the PT than to the PSDB.

By the end of this year, when Lula will complete his fourth year in government, he will have handed more than 300 billion dollars in interest payments on the public debt to bankers and speculators. Despite that, the debt continues to grow and has now gone over 500 billion dollars. As Heloísa Helena states, it’s “a ‘family allowance’ for the rich that benefit an elite of 20 thousand families that devour more than 70% of what is paid in interest rates for this debt.”

The government tries to present an image of social concern on the issues such as access to university. This was one of Lula’s main campaigning issues in the election. However, as is the general practice of his government, Lula manipulates a genuine social demand to promote a neo-liberal policy of privatisation. The government’s "university reform" is based in using public funds to finance private universities. With the same money handed over to the private sharks of education and their educational institutions, that are characterised by low quality and bad conditions for learning and working, the government could have made room for five times more students in public universities.

Lula’s government was also helped by a financial scenario much more stable than the one Cardoso confronted. There was no acute financial crisis during his first mandate and the growth on the world markets enabled the government to achieve a big trade surpluses. This was in spite of a strong ‘real’ and the policy of high interest rates which affected also some exporting sectors.

However, the fundamental reason why many workers voted on Lula was the lack of a sufficiently powerful credible alternative. If there is discontent with Lula’s government, the years of Cardoso and PSDB are still fresh in the memory of the masses. The left alternative presented by PSOL and the Left Front played and important role and helped expose the false polarisation between PT and PSDB. However, although it won a credible vote in its first election it was not seen as a sufficiently strong viable electoral alternative by the mass of workers.

The next government will be even weaker

The vote for Lula this year is completely different to the vote for the PT at the last elections in 2002. At that time there was enormous hope and enthusiastic support for the changes that PT always symbolised. This energy and enthusiasm was lost after four years of Lula’s government. Many voted this time holding their noses, justifying their votes in the name of ‘the lesser evil’. This means that this vote is less committed and it can rapidly change and even put the victory on the second turn at risk. Moreover, there will be no "blank check" for the PT and the government during a possible second term. It will be a much more fragile and unstable government.

If he manages do get re-elected, Lula will try and use the relative strength achieved by the electoral victory to quickly implement his "bag of evils". Proposals for a round of pension reform (for example, by raising the minimum age for women to retire), a labour rights reform (taking away several labour rights) and a trade union reform (strengthening the bureaucratic leaderships the trade union federations to weaken the resistance against the neo-liberal reforms) are likely to be rapidly introduced.

In addition, the government will have to implement austerity measures, with more cutbacks to maintain the primary budget surplus in order to continue pay the debt on the schedule.

The external financial scenario will also be much more difficult for the coming government. With the slowing down of the US economy and its recessive effects on world economy, the possibilities to resume a more solid economic growth in Brazil are very small. If Brazil has had mediocre growth in a favourable scenario, and this growth didn’t lead to an effective redistribution of income, in the coming period we will see a worsening of the situation.

The scenario will be the same if Alckmin wins the election. In that case, bigger clashes between the next government and the trade unions and social movements, will be inevitable. They are even possible as early as 2007. The chances of an intensification of the struggles, including workers in the public and private sector, apart from the landless workers and the youth in schools and universities, are much bigger.

In the same way that there is a process taking place of reorganising the workers’ movement, on the other side amongst the ruling class there are the first steps of a political reorganisation of the parties of big capital. The PT, that lost totally all it’s working class character after four years of Lula’s government, is a key element in this process.

To build a political base for his second term, Lula is trying to induce other bourgeois parties, especially PMDB, (the party with the biggest parliamentary group) is divided between a pro-Lula wing and anti-Lula wing. Even in the PSDB there is an internal dispute centred on the issue of the presidential election in 2010. A wing of the party, more linked with the governor in Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves, is trying to seek an agreement with Lula and PT. Presuming that PT will have no viable candidate for the presidential election in 2010, (Lula wont be able to stand again), it is looking towards an agreement or even a fusion between a part of PSDB and PT.

Despite the agreement about neo-liberal policies, the internal disputes in the political camp of the ruling class and the process of "gangsterisation" of politics are serious obstacles for the process of a political reorganisation of the ruling class.

The impact of the loss of PT and the reorganisation of the left

The loss of PT as a political point of reference for the workers and the transformation of its government into the main instrument of big capital against the workers had major consequences. The electoral process was extremely de-politicised. There was no difference between the programmes of the two principle candidatures.

The PT tried to emphasise a social conscience and compared the instability of Cardoso’s government to the situation under Lula. In practice it tried to show that it was more capable of conciliating the different classes and implementing structural adjustments and financial stabilisation while at the same time introducing some social policies to contain a social explosion. PSDB, on its turn, tried to differentiate itself on the ethical field of public governance and warned of the risks of instability emerging from corruption.

Deep political differences, none at sight!

Lula’s and PT’s past as left forces was used very skilfully to confuse the workers, dividing them, and in that way, containing a radicalisation of the struggle and resistance. The government explicitly co-opted the most combative trade union central, the CUT, into its programme. The chairperson of the CUT was appointed as Minister of Labour and defender of labour reform. The same happened to the UNE (National Union of Students), which was transformed into a transmission belt for the interests of the government to the students. Even the more combative and radicalised movements, such as the MST (Movement of the Landless Rural Workers), ended up neutralised when faced with the Lula government. While the government is introducing a land reform at a slower pace than the last PSDB government, there has been less confrontation. The leadership of the MST justifies it by arguing that the government is split and that the left still can win.

The several struggles that occurred were marked by fragmentation. Heroic struggles by the civil servants against the government and also from workers in the private sector (as the recent strike of the blue collar workers of Volkswagen in the industrial ABC region in São Paulo, or the current bank workers strike), took place without being linked to a global and unified political and economic alternative. As a result they tended to remain isolated. Generally, they didn’t achieve any real victories and couldn’t count on the traditional workers organisations to unify the struggles.

This meant that the issue of building new organisations of struggle as a concrete theme for an important layer of workers. The more combative sectors of the trade union movement started taking initiatives even towards building an alternative to the CUT. There are plans to hold a National Gathering of Workers next year, called by organisations like Conlutas (National Coordination of Struggles) and the Intersindical (an opposition trade union grouping) to draw up a common plan for action to resist the coming attacks.

Heloísa Helena’s campaign

In the political arena, the reorganisation of the left after the loss of PT was reflected in the electoral struggle. Heloísa Helena’s candidature was a big step in the direction of rebuilding a left with mass support after the loss of the PT to the ruling class.

The colossal effort to legalize PSOL (with 500.000 collected and registered signatures) to secure the possibility to stand in the election this year was fully justified. Moreover, the decision to bring together a Left Front with other smaller parties also sent the signal that the left was united in the effort of reorganising to confront the false polarisation between PT and PSDB.

The very existence of the Heloísa Helenas candidature and the other candidatures of P-SOL in practically all Brazilian states, with candidates for governors, senators, MPs and state MPs, in itself, represented an affirmation that the socialist left didn’t die with the PT and is in the process of reconstruction.

If the conditions for the left are difficult now, without Heloísa Helenas candidature the level of scepticism in the political struggle would have increased considerably and the difficulties in the organisation of a left intervention in the struggle would have been much greater.

The Left Front put forward a manifesto that was quite advanced, defending a rupture with imperialism and finance capital, including the suspension of the payment of the internal and foreign public debt, proposing the building of really democratic institutions that would represent a new power under the direct control of the workers and the people and, also, pointed to a new abolition of the modern slavery, defending the social rights against super exploitation of workers, women, blacks etc.

The manifesto represented a solid base to raise once more the banners of the left, to regain the support of millions for anti capitalist politics and build upon this basis a big movement of resistance against the coming attacks.

However, the manifesto of the Left Front ended up not being the political base for Heloísa Helenas campaign. The program defended publicly by Heloísa Helena was much more moderate.

When Heloísa Helena reached 12% in the opinion polls and Alckmin stagnated temporarily, the idea that Heloísa could overtake Alckmin and reach the second round against Lula put an enormous pressure to moderate the political profile. The party attempted to win support from voters that liked Heloísa for her personal characteristics and not for her left policies.

The fundamental emphasis of the campaign became Heloísa’s qualities like courage, integrity and honesty. Along with it, the centre of the campaign was denouncing the corruption. The programmatic alternative became more and more moderate. In this context, what prevailed was a vision based simply in the idea of autonomous national development, without any ruptures with the system, and with the central idea of reducing the interest rates to create economic growth.

On several occasions, when questioned about a possible wave of land occupations during her government, Heloísa said that it wouldn’t happen because she would really implement a land reform and it wouldn’t by necessary to occupy land. The aim of this kind of response was to send a message not frighten a section of the middle class that potentially could vote on her. The problem is that a call for the workers, including the land-less, to organise and struggle, should be the main axis of a left candidature, to stimulate the reorganisation of the mass movements.

A show of strength by the mass movement, together with the defence of a program for a rupture with financial capital, non-payment of the public debt and the re-nationalisation of the privatised companies and nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy – explaining this was the only way to sustain economic development and redistribution of wealth – could win the support of an important sections of the pauperised middle classes, as well as big sections of the working class. Even if an electoral victory was very unlikely, this type of campaign would lay the ground for the construction of a new, more favourable balance of forces in the society for workers and their allies against big national and international capital.

PSOL after the election

Another negative aspect of PSOL’s electoral campaign was a tendency to dissolve the party’s structures during the elections. There was a process of fragmentation of the party into the different candidatures, especially for MPs and state MPs. The campaign for state governors and even Heloísa’s campaign ended up being subordinated to the logic of the main effort, to get the current MPs re-elected.

The regional and national leaderships of the party were in practice substituted, even if it was done weakly, by the leadership of the main candidatures. There were no democratic openings for discussion about the course of the campaign and PSOL ended being reduced to an electoral front used by different candidates rather than a unified, plural and broad party that defended socialism.

The political and organisational regression, resulting from the cancellation of the party congress earlier, was planned during the first semester this year. It was enhanced by the electoral pressures in the face of the absence of a more clear definition of the party programme and structure.

Of seven MPs, PSOL managed to re-elect only three: Ivan Valente (São Paulo), Chico Alencar (Rio de Janeiro) and Luciana Genro (Rio Grande do Sul). The current MP Babá, one of the founders of the party, who transferred his candidature from Pará in the north to Rio de Janeiro, didn’t succeed to get re-elected. The same happened to MP Maninha (Distrito Federal), João Alfredo (Ceará) and Orlando Fantazzini (São Paulo).

PSOL got two state MPs in São Paulo (Carlos Giannazi and Raul Marcelo) and one in Rio de Janeiro (Marcelo Freixo), but lost four state MPs in the states of Santa Catarina, Espírito Santo, Pará and Amapá. The other parties of the Left Front (PSTU and PCB) didn’t get anyone elected.

PSOL confronted enormous difficulties in the election campaign such as the lack of resources, minimal time on TV, with the other candidatures abusing their economic power and being favoured by the media, etc. However, the political line that was adopted by the party and the fragmentation of the party were also factors that affected the result. The final result for Heloísa Helena (6,85%) was quite significant given the enormous difficulties.However, but the impact on the rank-and-file and the supporters of the party would have been much more positive if the campaign had adopted a more coherent position in line with the founding ideas of the party.

The second round will also be a test for PSOL. Heloísa Helena already declared that the party will support neither Lula nor Alckmin and that no member of the party can give public support to any of the two candidates. In spite of that, the party is not adopting a clear position of calling for a blank vote and is leaving it for its supporters to vote as they like. A more moderate wing of the party tend to put forward a position of putting conditions for a vote on Lula (not implementing labour rights reform etc) on the second round. But, this position is unlikely to win much support in the party.

The future of PSOL will depend basically in its ability to link up with the social struggles that will develop in the country the coming period. If PSOL does not go beyond being an electoral front and fails to play any central role in struggles in the coming period and only waits for the municipal elections in 2008 or the next presidential election in 2010, its future as a pivot for the reorganisation of the socialist left in Brazil is threatened.

Socialismo Revolucionário, the Brazilian section of CIO/CWI, defended a socialist program and a concept of party that is democratic, militant, internationalist, based on local structures and linked to social struggles. We defend a blank vote against Lula and Alckmin and the necessity to organise a struggle to resist the attacks that will come with the next government. We will continue to defend a socialist PSOL that is at the service of the struggles.

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