Brazil’s Historic Presidential Election: Left and Right Have Equal Chance of Winning

Now that frontrunner Lula da Silva of the Workers Party has been eliminated from the presidential race, his running mate, Fernando Haddad and far-right Jair Bolsonaro look likely to make the run-off after the first round vote on October 7th

Brazil's Historic Presidential Election: Left and Right Have Equal Chance of Winning

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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert coming to you from Baltimore.

Brazil is heading towards perhaps its most important election since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. The first round vote, which will take place on October 7, is happening after the impeachment of Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party, two years ago. Her predecessor Lula da Silva, the founder of the Workers Party, was the frontrunner acording to all polls, until he was convicted on charges of corruption in a trial that many say was rigged. Lula has been in prison now since April of this year, and in August his name was removed from the ballot. Lula’s running mate, Fernando Haddad, took his place last week. Haddad is now in a crowded race where a far-right extremist, Jair Bolsonaro, is the new frontrunner.

Joining me now to discuss Brazil’s presidential campaign is Michael Fox. Mike is a freelance journalist living in Florianopolis, Brazil. Thanks for being here today, Mike.

MIKE FOX: Thanks for having me, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with the horse race. Who’s ahead and who’s behind, according to the latest polls.

MIKE FOX: Right. So according to the latest polls you have Bolsonaro, that you mentioned, the far-right candidate, former military captain under the dictatorship. He is up around 28- between 28 and 30 percent. Behind him is Haddad, Lula’s former running mate. He is the man for the left and for the Worker’s Party. And he’s about 10 points behind him. He’s somewhere between 16 and 18 percent. And then just behind him is Ciro Gomes. Now, Ciro Gome, he is from the Democratic Labor Party. He’s been a longtime politician on the center left, and he’s roughly five to six points behind Haddad. And so this is what it’s mapping out right now. Of course, Bolsonaro is way ahead in the polls. But again, there’s a first round and there’s a second round election. And the fact that Haddad has only been officially been the PT candidate for the last week and a half, two weeks, and the fact that he’s kind of shot up into the second place position is really promising for Workers Party supporters.

GREG WILPERT: Thursday night there was a presidential debate, and all candidates participated except for Bolsonaro, who is still recovering from a stabbing that happened two weeks ago. What were the main takeaways from that debate?

MIKE FOX: I mean, the main first one is the fact that this was Haddad’s first debate. Up until now he’s been the vice presidential candidate. And since Lula has been in jail, then obviously Lula hasn’t been able to participate in these debates. So this is the first time he’s really been able to be front and center for the Worker’s Party. And that was, the fact that he was there became very prominent. You had a lot of the different, other presidential candidates kind of attacking him, attacking the Worker’s Party. And he was taking advantage of this moment to talk about Lula, to really make that connection between himself and Lula.

Because here’s the thing. Lula, until just a few weeks ago, was way ahead in the pack. He was somewhere between 30 and 40 percent. And he’s been there for months. If Lula could actually run in this race he would be the winner. And everybody- that’s kind of hands down, that’s been clear in all the different polls. The fact that he’s been in jail and been barred from running is huge because it means that he can’t come back to power. And the big question has been can Haddad kind of take his place, will Lula’s supporters vote for Haddad? That’s the question now. It’s going to be the question for the next month. Because if they will, then Haddad is going to be able to beat Bolsonaro in the second round, most likely. And if they’re not, then he’s going to be in trouble.

So that’s his goal over the next couple of weeks, is to make the connection between himself and Lula. And we’re seeing that happening. Obviously been happening a lot. At all of the different rallies he’s wearing a Lula shirt, and then he has kind of his collared shirt on top of it. In the rallies and the marches he’s there talking about how important Lulu is, how he is kind of the Lula candidate, because he wants to make that connection.

One important thing to keep in mind. Up until now they have not- the PT, the Workers Party, has not been able to use Lula in any of their campaign propaganda. Which has been a big deal, because on TV, wherever else, they’ve still been trying to get him in there. They’ve been using voices that sound like Lula and images. But they’ve just received the ruling from the Supreme Court just a couple of days ago that they are now able to use- in 25 percent of their campaign ads they can use Lula. So that’s huge, because they can finally start to make that connection on TVs and in places that aren’t kind of major centers, major cities around the country.

GREG WILPERT: So it sounds like Haddad is really- they’re trying to put him into Lula’s place, that he’s basically his replacement, trying to get votes that way. But what does that mean, also, in terms of the campaign itself? I mean, are they running on any particular issues at all?

MIKE FOX: They are. I mean, they’re- Lula and Haddad of the Workers Party came out with a very clear platform, a fairly thick document about all the different points that they want to be doing going forward. One of the main ones is a progressive tax reform. Probably, my guess, is they want to be able to do this. You know, you want to make taxes progressive. That’s important particularly in a country like Brazil with such a large poor population. But the other reality for anyone who’s going to come into power at this point is they just passed, you remember two years ago, they passed a 20-year spending freeze. So it means that the country is really hemmed in regarding what they can actually do in order to spend money. And obviously one of the big important things for the Workers Party has always been, you know, keeping spending up in the social programs, keeping spending up for education. Haddad is the former Minister of Education under Lula and under Dilma, and he was the minister that oversaw the largest increase in spending for education and the expansion of education in Brazil that the country’s ever seen.

So this is an important point, because if Haddad is able to come back to power, they need to find a way to be able to fund and to increase the budget for some of these things. And how are you going to do that when you’ve got this massive spending freeze? Obviously they talked about rolling back the austerity reforms of the Temer government. They’ve talked about trying to undo the spending freeze. They talked about passing this tax reform. Democratizing media. That was something Haddad was here and floating a couple days ago. He gave a press conference and he had a big rally, and in the press conference they asked him about several different things that he’d like to do, one of them about democratizing media.

Which goes back to kind of the theme of the pink tide, right. This was part of what Lula was talking about for years, what they’ve talked about in Venezuela and Ecuador and in Bolivia. The democratization of media, supporting local community radios and community television. So that is a piece that they’ve been that they’ve been wanting to do. Of course, all of this is very complicated. We’re talking about a country with the most conservative Congress ever, and a rise of the evangelical vote in this, in these elections. Over 500 candidates in these elections, local and regional candidates, are evangelical candidates. And they, of course, bring a very staunch conservative agenda to the table.

And so it’s really going to be different for the PT, regardless, if Haddad is able to come back into power. You know, keep in mind, too, he’s also, he’s he’s the former mayor of Sao Paulo, there. He did kind of revamp the entire public transportation to the city of Sao Paulo, created hundreds of kilometers of bus and bike lanes. So that’s obviously going to be something he’s very- he’s into sustainability. It’s going to be something that that that the Workers Party continues. And they want to roll back into regional integration. You know, the Temer government has taken- basically took everything the PT had done, and flipped an about-face, 100 percent the opposite direction, and tried to do everything that the PT would not do.

And so that’s what this election is about, and it will be increasingly about, if it becomes even clearer that it’s going to be Bolsonaro and Haddad. It’s going to be about these two mindsets, these two paradigms for the country. Are we looking in the direction, are we going to go back to what the PT would like? Poverty alleviation, developmentalism, but in the direction of trying to be as [sustainability] as possible. But really lifting people out of poverty, and really trying to increase rights for everyone? Or are we going to go in a direction nationalist, populist- you know, i.e. Donald Trump, which is what we know Jair Bolsonaro represents?

GREG WILPERT: So after the attack on both Bolsonaro, apparently his poll numbers rose a bit. He’s, as you mentioned, a far-right candidate who has a real chance of winning the presidency. Just mention to us what does it look like according to the polls for the second round? And what is happening, why is he attracting so many voters?

MIKE FOX: I mean, the second round, it’s going to be really hard to say. It’s going to be- it’s going to be fairly close. Now, he’s attracting voters. It looks like he’s going to, he’s a shoo-in to making the second round, whether or not he’s the frontrunner or the second runner, but it looks like he’s going to be the frontrunner. And then this second round, it’s going to be, it’s going to be a hard push, it’s going to be a tough race. Now, he’s attracting voters because, you know, the massive corruption that Brazil’s undergone for years, right, in the Lava Jato scandal, and what people have been feeling. And people basically are just fed up with politics in general. I mean, imagine where we were in the States about 10 years ago, when people said, I want everybody out, to essentially drain the swamp.

That’s, that’s what Jair Bolsonaro represents. He represents an outsider vision, although he’s been in politics for roughly 30 years. He’s been a congressional representative for the state of Rio de Janeiro since the early ’90s. So although he represents an outsider, he’s been in there for a long time. But his views are extremely, extremely far-right. You know, basically he’s come out in support of the dictatorship. He’s come out in support of torture. He’s, he’s accused the, he said a congressional representative, a colleague of his, didn’t deserve to be raped. The man is kind of a loose cannon in terms- and just recently, up in Acre, he came out and said that all of the, all the PT supporters should be killed, as he’s holding a tripod from a cameraman and using it, pretending it to be a machine gun.

So it’s really, really hard, but people like this, some people like this very intense, just, this attack, no holds barred, non-PC. And it’s also, I think it’s a sign of maybe, for many years the idea was, oh, we’re moving toward more rights, we’re moving toward more inclusion, more diversity. And it’s really a change, not just in Brazil, but the same kind of situation in the United States and elsewhere. And what we’re seeing is that you still have a very, very staunch, staunch conservative, racist, and homophobic sect of the population here in Brazil that is not willing to let go of those rights and wants to rein that back in. And that’s who Bolsonaro is really attracting.

He’s also really attracting people because of the massive insecurity in the country. Impunity is rampant, and things are not good. And he basically says he wants to rule with an iron fist, and he says he’s going to go in and just wipe the slate clean. So he’s willing to do that in Congress around corruption, and he’s willing to do that around, around the situation of violence. He’s come out and said that he thought that officers who kill criminals should be awarded honors.

And so this is the type of language that’s getting him votes and gaining him support. But it is important to also understand he has not been able to develop a very clear platform, campaign platform, around these issues, whereas the PT is very clear, itemized- of course, the PT, the Worker’s Party, has had decades of doing this. And the Bolsonaro campaign, he’s kind of rolling in here. He’s with this new- it’s not necessarily a new party, but it’s a very small party. PSL, the Social Liberty Party. It’s been around for many years. But until Bolsonaro joined it in March or April they really only had three congressional representatives in Congress. So that just shows how tiny this party has been. It’s grown leaps and bounds.

But just to put this in perspective, Bolsonaro doesn’t even have a campaign manager. I mean, there is no one, there’s no press officers, essentially. So his campaign is kind of this nuts and bolts type of thing. He has another congressional representative who is kind of his press guy who’s doing the work for him. But you know, it’s, it’s all about him. It’s the personification of Bolsonaro, and that’s really what’s bringing people on. But there are fanatical folks. People are really excited about this guy. And I’ve been meeting a lot of them in different places, even women, that say that they want to roll back to family values. And that’s what they’re talking about. And they’re very excited about his talk about God and his evangelical contacts.

So that’s what he represents in Brazil. And it’s another sign that Brazilian society is not- that there’s a major sector of it that is not as willing to open up and be as diverse as as we would think.

GREG WILPERT: Well, one group, of course- I mean, you mentioned that there are some women who are supporting him, but there seemed to be also a movement mobilizing of women against Bolsonaro. What are they doing, and how is their campaign being received?

MIKE FOX: Greg, So this is huge. They formed a Facebook page, Women United Against Bolsonaro, just a couple of weeks ago, and it went viral. I mean, within a few days there was over a million women in the, in the Facebook page itself. And then it was hacked just last weekend. They took it down. It was back up, and now as far as I’ve heard, I think there’s over 2 million women in it right now. They’re calling for a major march around the country on September 29 against Bolsonaro’s candidacy. And they’re really organizing.

I think this is really important. The parallels with the United States and Brazil in this case is very interesting, right. Because what we’re seeing is kind of a similar thing, it’s almost like a Me Too moment here of saying, no, we’re not willing to let this man come into office who has been fined for racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks. And we are saying no. And they’re really kind of becoming protagonistic in this moment. And women are in this very strange and important place in the country. So Brazil is still a very sexist country. But what you’re having is that women on both sides, in favor of Bolsonaro and also against him, are kind of in the crux of this campaign. And the question over women’s bodies, right, the question over abortion, the question over a woman’s role, right? Feminism is huge. The question over gender, which has become such a polemic issue here in Brazil.

So this is what is, is kind of happening and is playing out this moment. And women are ready to take the streets. Obviously they’ve been very active over social media. And we’re seeing that, videos and memes, and everything. And we’re going to see, you know, how many people can actually, they can mobilize, just this- you know, in roughly one week.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now, but we’ll definitely get back to you as soon as we can. And I also want to point out that we have two profiles that you did online of the two main candidates, Haddad and of Bolsonaro, and I urge people to watch them. I was speaking to Michael Fox, independent journalist in Florianopolis, Brazil. Thanks again, Mike, for having joined us today.

MIKE FOX: Thanks for having me, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.