“Dilma will win because she is the candidate of the poor,” he said. “And there are more poor than rich.”
He was proved right.
When President Dilma Rousseff stood on a podium in a hotel in Brasilia on Sunday night to celebrate the narrowest of victories over her Brazilian Social Democracy Party opponent, Aécio Neves, the first thing she did was thank her Workers' Party predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – popularly known as Lula. She even called him “president.” (If, as is now being suggested, Lula decides to run for a third term in 2018, he would probably win in a landslide.)
Then, lengthy salutations dealt with, she called for unity. “I urge, without exception, all Brazilians to unite in favor of the future of our country,” she said.
Exposing the economic, racial and class-based fault lines that divide Brazil, much as everyone would prefer to admit they don’t, and helped Rousseff win this election.
She could begin her "reunification" process by admitting that the huge social and economic advances Brazil has enjoyed under Rousseff and, more significantly, under Lula owe something to the economic reforms introduced by Lula’s predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso – known as FHC — of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. These stabilized the economy and allowed the country to grow. Then the two sides could admit that both their parties have done good for the country.
“The Workers' Party is dug in with the less informed, who coincidentally are the poorest,” Cardoso said during a recent interview for the UOL Web site, comments that the Workers' Party seized upon with glee.
Both FHC’s comment and the way the Workers' Party manipulated it were typical of a campaign nobody can be proud of, in which the principal issues were either ignored or clouded in a haze of half-truths, manipulations and cynical opportunism. The Workers' Party attacked and everyone else defended. It was characterized by inane and infantile name-calling, for which both sides can blame themselves and their supporters.
When Sunday’s vote was confirmed, the divide was clear: States in Brazil’s poorer north and northeast had voted "red" for Rousseff; those in the richer south and southeast had voted "blue" for Neves. Enraged upper- and middle-class Neves supporters in Sao Paulo immediately began proposing the secession of Brazil’s richest state from the federal union and blaming northeasterners for Rousseff’s victory. It was these same northeasterners, they maintained, who sucked federal resources dry with programs such as the income support scheme, known as Family Allowance.
Many who complained were part of a privileged, white upper class — many of whom joined the "elite" ranks through birth, not merit. They display a conviction, deeply entrenched and rarely admitted, that they are somehow better than their poorer, browner countrymen who for so long worked in their companies and cleaned their homes. If Sunday’s election suggested anything, it is that this kind of paternalism is dead and that a louder democratic voice dominates. Those poorer Brazilians are no longer subservient to their old bosses.
Lower-income Brazilians, and the idealists who believe that Brazil should continue to concentrate power and resources in state hands, demonstrate a fear of liberal economics and bogeymen bankers, as if they could move their country to a socialist parallel universe.
But without those bankers, financiers and business leaders on board, Brazil will have little hope of getting the economy back to growth so that it can generate enough money to give its citizens the education, health and transport services they need. That would demand of Rousseff that she learn to interfere less and listen more.
That done, Rousseff needs to address another serious problem: corruption. A total of 54 million people voted for her, but 51 million voted for her opponent. A staggering 30 million simply abstained, even though voting is obligatory in Brazil, while more than seven million voted for no party.
This represents a very high rejection of the Workers' Party, a very real contempt for its repeated sleaze scandals and a widespread distrust of politicians of all stripes.
The scandal concerning overpayments in contracts for the state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, that allegedly benefited her party is serious and needs addressing. Until now, Rousseff has complained that leaks from key players who have turned the state’s evidence, such as money changer Alberto Youssef, were electorally motivated. Of course they were, but now she has to face what is clearly a serious problem within her own party.