Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Brazil's Testy Election Race

Brazil’s testy election race
Published: October 26 2010 23:21 | Last updated: October 26 2010 23:21
Brazil’s presidential election has taken a nasty turn. At a recent rally, José Serra, from the opposition PSDB party, was hit on the head by a roll of duct tape, supposedly thrown by a supporter of the ruling PT party. “You remember the Nazi’s assault troops?” he sneered, harvesting political capital for Sunday’s run-off. “This is typical of fascists.” The next day, it was Dilma Rousseff’s turn. On campaign in PSDB territory, she was almost hit by a water balloon.

One reason for this burst of aggression is that Brazil’s election race, like all good races, has kept the drama for last. It grew unexpectedly close after Ms Rousseff failed to win the first round outright, despite being president Luiz Inácio da Silva’s public protégée. Both candidates have also said little about their proposed policies, preferring instead vague promises of continuity. This is politically understandable: every Brazilian wants to prolong the country’s new prosperity. But it also left the candidates to define themselves only by denigrating the other.

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In fact, both are remarkably similar. They are social democrats who believe in market-friendly policies with a large social component. They are busybody technocrats. They are also charmless. Both have been compared to Gordon Brown, only without the charisma – a potentially serious problem. Success in Brasília hinges on the president’s ability to cajole and seduce his or her party’s coalition partners. Mr Lula da Silva was rich in such talents. Ms Rousseff and Mr Serra are not.

Where differences do exist, they are slight but significant. Mr Serra is more of a fiscal hawk. Hopefully, he would stop the use of off-budget schemes recently deployed to meet fiscal targets. Trimming public spending, still rising fast despite a red-hot economy, would also bring down interest rates and so limit currency appreciation. Ms Rousseff favours a bigger state, although a fifth of public companies already count it – one way or other – among their top five shareholders. On foreign policy, Mr Serra would be less indulgent towards Iran, Venezuela and Cuba than Brazil has been. Ms Rousseff has also only just recovered from cancer.

Yet the biggest difference, perhaps, is the role Ms Rousseff’s wildly popular benefactor will play if she wins – as is likely, given her 10-point lead in polls. A parallel presidency, like Mr Putin’s in Russia, is possible; so too is Mr Lula da Silva’s return to office in 2014 and 2018. If only to interrupt this relationship with power, Mr Serra is the better choice for Brazil.

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