Guide to the 2010 Brazilian Election

Brazil, South America’s leading regional power, votes in a massive election on October 3, 2010. Brazil does not vote extremely often, with general elections every four years and municipal elections being the only elections mid-way through the four-year term. But when it does so, it does so in style. The President, all 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the Senate, all 27 (including the Federal District) state Governors and the entirety of all 26 state legislatures are up for election on October 3. Runoffs in the presidential and gubernatorial ballots are held on October 31, if necessary.

The President is elected by direct popular vote in a traditional ‘presidential style’ election requiring a majority on the first ballot to be elected or a runoff between the top two contenders if a majority is not attained. Since 1998, the President is allowed to run for a second consecutive term. The Vice President, like in the United States, runs on a ticket with the President.

The Chamber’s 513 seats are elected by a form of proportional representation in the context of states. Each state is allocated a set number of seats based on population. São Paulo has 70 seats, while the eleven smallest states have 8 seats each. The states serve as electoral districts and members are elected through open list proportional representation. Parties put forward a list of candidates, and voters may vote either for a party or a person. The votes for party and persons are totaled up. There is no threshold after the Supreme Court struck down a proposed 5% threshold right before the 2006 elections in the name of popular representation. The lack of geographical constituencies has been criticized by some analysts who claim that it does not encourage transparency or accountability of deputies to their voters. Indeed, corruption in the Chamber is rampant and the position of President of the Chamber is a very coveted position for the financial advantages it offers and the pork that it can generate. Like in the United States, approval ratings for Congress in Brazil are extremely low.

The Senate has 81 seats, with each state having three seats each. Senators, unlike all other elected officials, serve eight-year terms and are elected in two classes. Elections are staggered so that two-thirds of the upper house is up for election at one time and the remaining one-third four years later. In 1998 and again in 2006, only one seat was up. In 2002 and again in 2010, each state elects two Senators. States serve as single-seat constituencies in years such as 2006, and as multi-member FPTP seats in years such as 2010. It really is a top-two election.

Brazil is a federal state and state Governors hold considerable power. They are elected in the same style as the President, and they also run with a Vice Governor on the ticket.

The incumbent President of Brazil is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known to the world by his nickname Lula. Lula, in power since 2002, has become the image of Brazil in the world and most people around the world know something about the uneducated trade unionist who became president of South America’s most powerful nation and booming economic power. Lula, born to an impoverished traditional Brazilian family in the poor Nordeste region but who made his mark in the state of São Paulo, where many Northeasterners were forced to emigrate to for financial reasons. Lula got formal education only up to fourth grade and a low-key skills certificate which led him to work in heavy machinery in the factories in the industrial suburbs of São Paulo. Influenced by his brother, he rose to prominence within steel workers’ trade unions in the industrial ABCD region, the red belt, of São Paulo. Lula became a well-known trade unionist in the context of growing opposition to the military regime, and in 1981 was a founding member of the Workers’ Party (PT), which sought to be the political arm of the growing independent Brazilian unionist movement. Lula, then a socialist, was defeated in the 1989 runoff and lost by the first round in 1994 and 1998 to Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC), a well-known sociologist who was responsible for the financial stabilization and liberalization of Brazil in 1993. Lula was elected President in the 2002 runoff with a bit over 60% of the votes, and re-elected with a similar percentage in the 2006 runoff. Lula, ineligible for a third term, leaves office as one of the – if not the most popular leaders in the world with an approval nearing 80%. Lula’s social policies, which have significantly reduced poverty and bridged some social and economic inequalities, have been successful while not hampering the economic development of Brazil – Brazil will be posting an excellent GDP growth rate in 2010 – which have come partly as a result of Cardoso’s liberal economic reforms in the 90s. Lula, however, has been criticized at home for corruption in his first time, which was marked by one of the biggest political scandals in Brazilian politics, the mensalão, in which Lula’s PT was found guilty of paying smaller parties in Congress in return for their support in votes. This scandal highlights the main underlying and eternal nature of Brazilian politics since 1841: compromise, which is somewhat unique in South America.

Brazilian History and Politics since Independence

Empire: 1820-1889

Brazil has a somewhat unique history, both political and actual history, in the regional context of predominantly Hispanic Latin America. Brazil gained independence from Portugal in 1822 not through a war of liberation, but rather through the relatively peaceful break between Lisbon and Rio in 1822 in the person of Dom Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne. The Portuguese royal family had taken shelter in Brazil during the Napoleonic Wars, and during their stay in Brazil, the colony enjoyed unprecedented infrastructural and economic growth. However, by the end of the Peninsular War and the return of the Portuguese royal family – that is, everybody except Dom Pedro, Lisbon imposed tough trade rules on Brazil and Dom Pedro declared the independence of Brazil. Dom Pedro I of Brazil reigned until 1831, and established a liberal and, for its time, progressive constitution in 1824, though slavery remained legal in Brazil. Though Pedro I’s reign was turbulent marked by revolts across Brazil and political divisions between liberals, absolutists and between Brazilians and Portuguese, it brought much development to Brazil. However, power remained in the hands of wealthy landowners of the sugar-growing Northeast, known by it’s local name, the Nordeste. Sugar, aided by slave labour, was the main economic crop of early Brazil. Pedro’s suspected Portuguese aspirations and goals led to his downfall and abdication in 1831. Between 1831 and 1841, years of chaos in the provinces brought upon by a constitutional reform which decentralized power caused instability and chaos. However, starting with the coronation of Dom Pedro II in 1841, Brazil entered a period of economic and social development and the start of the Brazilian political culture, marked by compromise. Though two parties, Liberal and Conservative, emerged in Brazil, they did not fight each other in civil wars like they did in Central and South America. This is due in part to the Emperor’s poder moderador, or moderating power, which ‘moderated’ politics and acted as a neutral force above party politics. In reality, the Emperor named and dismissed Prime Ministers, sometimes even overriding a legislative majority. Both Liberals and Conservatives were big-tent parties with little ideological constraints, though Liberals largely stood for decentralized government and slightly more powerful legislative government while Conservatives supported the centralized status-quo and a powerful emperor. However, neither parties were driven by ideology, unlike their counterparts in countries such as Colombia. For example, while the Liberals supported the abolition of slavery early on, the abolition of slavery itself in 1889 and slavery reform laws which preceded actual abolition were all passed by Conservatives. Likely due to the fickle parties, a fickle and lax attitude towards parties which exists to this day started to develop in Brazil. Most politicians switched parties during their careers; many Conservative leaders had previously been Liberals, for example.

The War of the Triple Alliance between 1864 and 1870, in which Brazil, allied to Argentina and Uruguay defeated Paraguayan caudillo Francisco Solano López (in the bloodiest war in South American history, killing nearly two-thirds of Paraguayans) led to the rise in influence and power of the Brazilian military. The war, which had swelled military ranks, created a large corps of young officers issued from the burgeoning urban middle-class who were restless in their demands for higher pay and more prestige, advantages which were resisted by the old civilian politicians as well as a Dom Pedro who was growing older and losing interest for his country. Indeed, Dom Pedro II, the philosopher emperor, enjoyed spending long stints of his reign in France and Europe studying and meeting with the French philosophers of the day. A French philosopher, Auguste Comte, and his positivist ideology, also found supporters within the officers corps. The growing rift between civilian politicians and the growing military was the major cause of the establishment of the Brazilian republic in 1889. It was not the efforts of liberal reformers from urban centres and southern Brazil within a small Republican Party which sparked the birth of the republic. However, the make-or-break for any regime in Brazil in 1889 remained the wealthy landowners of the Nordeste, who, despite the decline of sugar in favour of coffee in São Paulo and southeastern Brazil, retained the real power within the Brazilian political system.

Slavery was seen as an outdated archaic institution by the majority of the Brazilian elite in 1888, and it had ceased to be profitable early on. It had not been abolished earlier because no government, which relied on the support of the slave-dependent Nordeste, could have done so directly. Instead, small steps towards abolition had started by the early 1870s, freeing old slaves (above 60, though few lived to 60) or the offspring of slaves. However, by 1888, with the Brazilian economy becoming both more industrialized and dominated by coffee in the southeast, slavery was seen as a block to economic development and European immigration by the elite. There was a rather wide consensus within the political class for abolition in 1888, and it was abolished unilaterally by a decree passed by Princess Imperial Isabel – her father Dom Pedro was, again, in Europe. However large the political consensus, slave owners and the upper-classes, who, although knowing deep down that slavery was unprofitable (the negative fallout from abolition were indeed rather short), felt that they did not need the monarchy to preserve their interests any longer. Furthemore, within the growing coffee growing elite in São Paulo, by now the economic heart of Brazil, replacing the Nordeste, there was growing demand for decentralization and local autonomy to protect the provincial market and give the growing local elites in São Paulo and Minas Gerais even more power. Imperial centralization ran counter to these demands, and attempts by a Liberal cabinet in 1889 to decentralize power was too late.

Oligarchic Illiberal Republic: 1889-1930

Indeed, the Republican Party had allied with, or rather manipulated, the restless military, led by Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, into supporting a coup in November 1889 against the Empire. A republic based on the American model, indeed the name of the country was ‘United States of Brazil’, with a very federal decentralized structure was created by the 1891 constitution. Much power was given to the states, who had control over matters of trade and could act as quasi-independent entities within what was really a confederation. Thus emerged a very illiberal ‘democracy’ dominated by the new economic elites of two states: São Paulo and Minas Gerais. This system became known as the system of café com leite, coffee with milk, denoting the power of coffee in São Paulo and milk in Minas Gerais. Though opposed by all the other states, the largest of which were usually Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia and Pernambuco; the economic growth of Brazil and the continued profitability of coffee helped the governments. Indeed, it was said that when coffee sales were good, the government was also doing well. The system endured uncontested until around 1910, though it was never seriously threatened until the Great Depression. The presidential nominees supported by the ruling state or government invariably won, though the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais sometimes split ranks over the presidential candidate, and sometimes one of the two states backed a candidate based in a sidelined state, such as São Paulo’s backing of civilian Bahianese Rui Barbosa over Hermes da Fonseca, the eventual winner, in 1910, the first seriously contested election. At the state level, political machines dominated though, and there were no political parties except for the state Republican Party. A system of coronelismo emerged in rural areas, where local party bosses delivered votes en masse in return for funding or influence.

The first real opposition to the regime to come from outside was the post-war tenente (lieutenant) movement led by young officers who were vague on specifics but largely stood for some sort of reform. Intellectuals, such as artists and writers, were also opposed to the regime. Tenente revolts in 1922 and 1924 largely failed but did create a state of siege throughout southern Brazil during the vast majority of Artur Bernardes’ troubled presidency. Bernardes, from Minas Gerais, had been elected in 1922 against former President Nilo Peçanha of Rio de Janeiro. Bernardes had been opposed by the military, while Peçanha had been the candidate of the military. The 1924 revolt did spark popular imagination in the mythical form of Luís Carlos Prestes, a young lieutenant whose column escaped authorities for months while on a 25,000 kilometre trek through the the Brazilian interior. But the tenentes never really stood a chance at overthrowing the government. They were far too small, too weak, too disorganized to pose a threat to a regime which was still supported by the elite and the economic power classes.

Vargas: 1930-1945

The 1929 Great Depression hit the monocrop Brazilian economy particularly hard, like it did throughout South America. Coffee exports dwindled dramatically. The government of Washington Luís, elected in 1926, did little to help and clung to a hard-money policy which resulted in the rapid exhaustion of gold and sterling reserves, leaving the government with a worsening balance-of-payments crisis. However, contrary to the historiographical consensus, it was not the Great Depression which brought down the system. It was rather Washington Luís’s political miscalculations which did. During the 1920s, there existed an unwritten deal between Minas Gerais and São Paulo according to which the two states alternated the top job between themselves. Bernardes, a mineiro, was succeeded unopposed by Washington Luís, a paulista. Minas Gerais, represented by its ambitious Governor Antônio Carlos Ribeiro de Andrada, expected that it would provide the next President, likely Andrada. However, Washington Luís pushed his fellow paulista dauphin, Júlio Prestes against the will of Minas Gerais. However, Prestes, being the candidate supported by the government, was the heavy favourite. His opponent was the rather unknown Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Getúlio Vargas, the candidate of the Aliança liberal and the candidate supported by Minas Gerais, in addition to his home state and the Northeastern state of Paraíba, his running mate’s home state. Prestes, unsurprisingly, was elected with around 59.5% against 40.5% for Vargas. The Alliance denounced fraud, but the reality of Brazilian politics during that era was that there was fraud on both sides.

Getúlio Vargas came from an influential family from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost states at the border with Argentina and Uruguay. Rio Grande do Sul is called the gaúcho (cowboy) state of Brazil due to the traditionally rugged and tough lifestyle of the state, which contrasts starkly with the gentlemanly feudalism of São Paulo. An hotbed of positivist thought, Rio Grande do Sul’s state politics became dominated by an authoritarian system of governance popular in the state, inspired by Júlio de Castilhos, a positivist, and later led, between 1898 and 1928 (with the exception of the 1908-1913 period) by Antônio Augusto Borges de Medeiros, an authoritarian political boss. Borges de Medeiros was Getúlio Vargas’ mentor, and Vargas succeeded him as Governor in 1928 following a political deal made after a 1923 civil war. Therefore, Getúlio Vargas contested the 1930 election from within the system on a vague platform which vaguely supported some sort of reform. He was, for what it was worth, supported by the remnants of the tenente movement.

Vargas contested the results of the election, but he did not originally seek a revolution. Indeed, none of the major leaders of the Alliance supported a revolution and they were already negotiating some sort of deal or compromise with the new government. Being conservatives, they were scared of a revolution. Until, of course, Vargas’ running mate, João Pessoa, was shot – likely by a local family rival, but allegedly by Washington Luís, now a lameduck President until November 15, 1930. A revolutionary movement based in Paraíba, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul erupted in September 1930, and came to a climax at the battle of Itararé, the biggest in Brazilian history. Except that the biggest battle didn’t happen. The military in Rio, independently of Vargas, moved in and pulled the plug on Washington Luís. They ruled for a few days and handed power over to Vargas in 1930.

Vargas has been honoured with a number of labels, ranging from fascist to Nazi supporter to American ally. These labels, none of which are true, do depict Vargas’ tremendous political skills. He had no set ideology, and instead went with the popular mood of the day. Within his government, he played rival elements against one another and sided with the one which prevailed internally or even externally. He also adapted well to different circumstances: from 1930 to 1933 as leader of a provisional government, from 1933 to 1937 as leader of a democratic state and from 1937 to 1945 as leader of an authoritarian regime. His little concern with ideology and his ability to adapt to the circumstances of the time is not unique to him, rather, similar qualities can be found in most Brazilian politicians, including contemporary ones.

Vargas moved almost immediately to assert the power of the central government by appointing federal interventors in every state who reported directly to him, and by reducing state power over matters such as trade during the 1933-1934 Constituent Assembly. In the states, Vargas often supported the dissidents opposed to the old regime, as a method to create a base of loyal lackeys throughout Brazil. In 1932, he defeated a revolt in São Paulo led originally by liberal reformers who had supported him at the outset but later became led by the remnants of the old paulista conservative elite. The tenentes, who had originally supported him and participated in his first cabinet, also became progressively sidelined when Vargas understood that they offered him with no reliable support base. Indeed, throughout the first 6 or 7 years of his stint in power, Vargas was looking for a support base within the political spectrum.

In 1934, the year in which the new democratic constitution went in effect giving Vargas a four-year term before direct elections in 1938, Brazil was faced with growing political chaos and violence. Brazil was starting to resemble Germany in the 1930s, with street fights between two new political forces: the Brazilian Integralists led by Plínio Salgado and the National Liberation Alliance (ALN). The Integralists were a quasi-fascist organization, with their own symbol, the Σ, and their own SA-like paramilitary. They supported traditional Christian values and sprouted nationalist rhetoric. Supported by the white middle-class and the navy in particular, they also received covert funding from the Italian embassy. On the other hand, the ALN was a front for the Communist Party (PCB), led by Luís Carlos Prestes under direct orders from the Comintern in Moscow. A rather foolish revolt sparked by the ALN in Natal and Recife in 1935, which largely consisted of poorly coordinated murders of random police officers in their beds, played into the hands of Vargas who took the opportunity to remove normal constitutional guarantees and created an alliance of convenience with Salgado’s Integralists, who were elated at the banning of their main rival and smelled power within their reach.

The man of the people, Getulio Vargas

Frustrated with the candidates in the 1938 election, Vargas, with the support of the Integralists, moved to seize power for himself in November 1937. He proclaimed a new authoritarian constitution for a new state, the Estado Novo. He quickly outmaneuvered the Integralists after the growingly frustrated Integralists had mounted a failed attack on the Presidential Palace in February 1938. Vargas had removed the last trace of political opposition to his rule. Within his own government, he, as always, took the direction of the wind and lukewarmly sided with Nazi Germany while letting pro-fascist elements such as Filinto Müller and pro-American elements such as Osvaldo Aranha play off against one another. At the same time, the State Department was actively courting Brazil to bring it back into the American axis, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Brazil, neutral from the outset of World War II, bought into the State Department’s game in return for US financing of a new steel mill in Volta Redonda. The US, in return for funding Vargas’ policy of industrial and infrastructural development, got air bases in the Northeast and access to Brazil’s key rubber reserves in Amazonia (now that Asian rubber was under Japanese control). Brazil was the only South American country to send troops to fight in Europe, with a Brazilian unit distinguishing themselves in southern Italy.

As any populist leader of the era, Vargas moved to build a political base for himself. As Peron did in Argentina later on, Vargas became the hero of the growing urban working-class. Exploited or sidelined under the Old Republic, Vargas used them as his political clientèle of choice by passing new labour laws, creating new state enterprises in the burgeoning Brazilian industry, and establishing a corporatist labour structure. Of course, Vargas’ aim was not pleasing the working-class as much as establishing a reliable political base for himself, knowing that his authoritarian rule would not last forever. During the Estado Novo, Brazil moved more and more towards becoming a more diversified and more industrialized economy

Vargas was not as harsh a dictator as similar dictators in Spain, Portugal or Italy, and he did not commit mass-murders of opponents, largely because he had no serious opponents. Torture was commonplace, however, and censorship was quite active. His most decried move was deporting Olga Benario, Luís Carlos Prestes’  Jewish German-Brazilian wife, to Nazi Germany in around 1936 where she latter in a concentration camp. But supporters of Vargas claims that this decision highlights not as much the man’s evil but rather a political move to please Germany at a time when Brazil was unofficially a Nazi ally.

Experiment with Democracy: 1945-1964

His authoritarian rule lasted until 1945. That year, the troops coming back from Europe, where they had fought for democracy, were demanding more democracy and free elections – elections scheduled for 1943 had been cancelled. Opposition was mounting, and Vargas did respond in kind to these rising democratic feelings by calling for elections to a constituent assembly by the end of the year and releasing mostly leftist political opponents, notably Luís Carlos Prestes. Political parties were formed, the three largest of which were the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the National Democratic Union (UDN) and the Brazilian Labour Party (PTB). The PSD was formed by the conservative political bosses and industrialists who supported Vargas. The UDN was the opposition movement, largely consisting of anti-Vargas liberal constitutionalists and whose main leaders were 1920s tenentes such as Eduardo Gomes or Juarez Tavora. The PTB was Vargas’ personal machine, aimed at urban workers and founded, allegedly, to emulate the British Labour Party. The PCB was also legalized, and Salgado returned from exile in Lisbon. Despite this, the military, which, also moving with the wind, felt worried that Vargas was not sincere and were scared that he would repeat his 1937 coup all over. In October, they told him to resign or be deposed. He chose the later and retired to his ranch in Rio Grande do Sul.

In the first free elections in December 1945, Marshal Eurico Dutra, Vargas’ former War Minister, standing for the PSD and PTB, won 55% of the vote – largely due to Vargas’ lukewarm endorsement, defeating Eduardo Gomes who won 35% and a PCB candidate who won 10%. Dutra, albeit supported by Vargas, who had been moving markedly to the left since 1943 (imposing new anti-monopoly laws to break up foreign-owned firms in Brazil and opposing foreign capital in Brazil), was largely right-wing. His lavish spending and depletion of Brazil’s post-war foreign exchange surplus are not purely right-wing, but, as The Economist loves to point out, real (neo-)liberalism is inexistent in Brazil. He moved against the PCB following strong Communist showings in Rio and São Paulo in the 1947 mid-terms, later banning the party once more in 1947. Dutra’s policy was rather right-wing, in that he welcomed foreign investment and distanced himself from Vargas’ more left-leaning policy.

The 1946 constitution prevented consecutive re-election for all officeholders. That, combined with Dutra’s little interest in party politics, allowed Vargas to start staging the return he had eyed since 1945. He had been elected to the Senate in 1946, but he lacked interest in being a Senator and returned to his self-imposed exile in his Riograndense ranch. To no one’s surprise, he was nominated as the PTB’s candidate. In his typical nature, Vargas forged an alliance with the small Social Progressive Party (PSP) of corrupt populist São Paulo Governor Adhmar de Barros, who had been Vargas’ paulista interventor for a short while during the Estado Novo and who had been elected Governor in 1946 on a populist platform independent of the PTB. Though Adhemar had ambitions of his own, he figured he would support Vargas in 1950 and in return Vargas would support him in 1955. The PSP provided Vargas with his running-mate, who was elected on a separate ballot, João Café Filho, who also gave Vargas a base in the Nordeste, a traditionally UDN region where Vargas’ PTB lacked a foothold. The PSD, unwilling to ally with Vargas, nominated little-known Minas Gerais congressman Cristiano Machado, but the party’s state machines, seeing that Machado would not win and that Vargas would, allied locally with Vargas, who had the unofficial support of a majority of the PSD. Vargas won a clear victory with 48.7% of the votes against 26.7% for Eduardo Gomes, again the UDN’s candidate and only 21.5% for Machado who even failed to win Minas Gerais. Café Filho was elected on the vice presidential ballot with 35.8% against 33.3% for UDN candidate Odilon Braga.

Vargas took power in a framework which he, for the first time, had not played a defining role in creating, and also a system where opposition to him was not only present but most certainly virulent. In fact, Vargas had against him not only the UDN and its uncharismatic and uninspiring stock of old tenentes, but most importantly the majority of the media most notably Roberto Marinho’s O Globo and Carlos Lacerda’s Tribuna da Imprensa. Furthermore, Vargas, already 68 years old, was growing old and was losing his wily skills in Brazil’s treacherous world of political maneuvering.

Yet, he formed a government which was inclusive (with only one PTB cabinet minister) and prospects were bright. Surrounded by a team of young technocrats, Vargas made economic policy his top priority and devised an eclectic policy designed to maximize the inflow of capital and technology from private and public sources abroad, notably in the United States. Following a joint US-Brazilian commission studying the country’s economy, the US had indicated interest in channeling public funds for investments in the country’s poor energy and transportation sector. At the same time, Vargas’ economic policy had a nationalist facet to it, including measures to limit profit-remittances by foreign corporations but most notably the desire to nationalize and monopolize the exploration and production of oil, first discovered in 1939. This took the form, in 1953, of Petrobras, a public firm with monopoly in the exploration and production of Brazilian oil. The Petrobras issue had sparked off heated debate and had created a polarized political scene, for one of the first times in Brazilian politics, between nationalists and liberals who opposed the monopoly and favoured more foreign investments.

Despite the bright prospects at the outset, the Brazilian economic outlook soon darkened as inflation and the deficit rose. Brazil had clung to an overvalued exchange rate which made imports cheaper and exports more expensive. Eisenhower had also thrown the US’ loan commitment into doubt. Thus an economic stabilization plan, one that would include limits on government expenditure and a fall in real wages, was needed. Vargas re-shuffled his cabinet in June 1953 with the entrance of two new names. Osvaldo Aranha, Vargas’ old trusted right-hand man, became Finance Minister. João Goulart, a gaúcho like Vargas and a young favourite of the unions, became Labour Minister. Aranha led an austere policy which had some early successes in reducing inflation. But Vargas’ political base remained the unionized urban working-class, and the PTB was founded to be the party of the urban working-class. Thus came a bitter struggle between Aranha, committed to his austere stabilization plan, and Goulart, demanding an increase (around 64%) in the government-regulated minimum wage. Aranha opposed such a raise because it would wreck the anti-inflation plan he had been fighting for. Vargas needed to arbitrate, and, he seemed to lean in Aranha’s favour when he fired Goulart in February 1954. But on the traditional Labour Day rallies on May 1, Vargas shocked observers by proclaiming a 100% increase in the minimum wage.

At the same time, the military, which commanded significant prestige and influence, was growing opposed to Vargas. The Clube Militar, an exclusive club of officers, held elections for the club’s leadership which were widely regarded as an indicator of the military’s mood. The Petrobras issue, among others, had also polarized the military into a pro-Vargas nationalist wing and an anti-Vargas wing known as the “Democratic Crusade”. Led by Generals Cordeiro de Farias, Etchegoyen and Nelson de Melo, the Democratic Crusade won the club elections in 1952 with a crushing 65% of the vote against the nationalist slate. In 1954, the Colonel’s Manifesto, which protested against low military funding and the 100% increase in the minimum wage, came as a warning by the military to Vargas that the military was growingly opposed to Vargas.

The explosive situation came to a climax on August 5, when shots fired from a car killed Air Force Major Ruben Vaz and wounded the man Ruben Vaz was protecting, Carlos Lacerda. Only wounded, Lacerda continued to emit a slew of anti-Vargas hatred from his hospital bed and affirmed that it was Vargas who had personally ordered the shooting. In truth, it was likely Vargas’ loyal black bodyguard, Gregorio Fortunato who ordered the killing – possibly on his own without informing Vargas of the action. At any rate, the killing of a military man inflamed the military, who launched an investigation into the perpetrator which unsurprisingly pointed to the Presidential Palace. By August 23, the military was likely on the verge of staging a coup to oust Vargas from power and install a right-wing government. Vargas took matters into his own hand, and, in one of his most skillful moves, shot himself on the morning of August 24. Leaving behind him an inflammatory nationalist suicide note which is now famous, Vargas took his life to prevent a military coup and seized the advantage for his own side in the struggle between Lacerda and the nationalists. Lacerda and the military found themselves on the defensive, and Lacerda fled to Havana (with his good friend Fulgencio Batista) for his safety.

João Café Filho became President and ruled until November 8, 1955. He led, with the support of liberal economist Eugênio Gudin, an unpopular liberal policy which had some success in reducing inflation in 1955. During his term, the 1955 presidential election was held. Juscelino Kubitschek, a young reformist PSD Governor of Minas Gerais was elected President narrowly with 35.7% over former UDN tenente Juarez Távora who won 30.3%. Adhemar de Barros won 25.8% and Plínio Salgado, back from exile, won 8.3% (likely helping Kubitschek win by taking votes away from the UDN). Kubitschek had won at the top of a PSD-PTB alliance which also won the vice presidency in the person of João Goulart. However, Café Filho was rushed to the hospital on November 8 and replaced by the President of the Chamber, Carlos Luz. Carlos Luz, however, was rumoured to be in favour of a military coup staged by the right to prevent Kubitschek and Goulart from taking over on January 31, 1956. As a result, the legalist wing of the military – that is, an heterogeneous wing composed of officers loyal to constitutional principles and rule of law, staged a preventive coup led by Marshal Henrique Lott on November 11, 1955 which removed Luz from office. Lott’s coup was not staged out of support for Kubitschek (or Goulart!), given that Lott likely voted for Távora, but out of a legalist adherence to the constitution and military discipline after the civilian government had refused to reprimand a loud-mouthed far-right colonel. Congress impeached Luz and Senate President Nereu Ramos became President and imposed a state of siege until the inauguration of Kubitschek and Goulart, a state of siege which kept Café Filho from re-claiming the presidency after getting out of the hospital. To further show how the PSD was not a real party, both Luz and Kubitschek hailed from the PSD.


Kubitschek was sworn in on January 31, 1956 and ushered in what he styled the era of “fifty years of progress in five”, or, what the UDN styled “fifty years of inflation in five”. Kubitschek launched a “Goals Plan” of investments in new energy, transportation, the Nordeste and most notably, a new capital. The construction of a new capital in the middle of the country (instead of Rio) had been a dream written into the constitutions of 1891, 1934 and 1946, but nobody had followed through on it. Kubitschek saw the construction of a new capital as part of his effort to make Brazil a modern and progressive nation, as well as to spark economic growth. Brasília, located in the sparsely populated central plateau of Brazil, was built in 41 months and became the capital of Brazil in April 1961. The futuristic and unusual architecture of the planned city are famous worldwide, as are the names of urban planner Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer. The Goals Plan and the general good feelings associated with the economic growth of the country, aided by a World Cup win in 1958, contributed to a feeling of good times and general euphoria in Brazil. A euphoria caused by Kubitschek’s political skill in forging compromise – including with the moderate wing of the UDN – and keeping the bitter political crises of 1954 and 1955 muffled. However, Kubitschek’s political skill could not endure forever and more attention was paid to the inflation and deficit brought about the unprecedented expenditures that building Brasília had required. Inflation reached 36% in 1959 and Kubitschek rejected that same year an IMF loan which required austerity, aka. abandoning the President’s economic targets. Kubitschek knew that he would be leaving the country in a dire economic situation which would create a mammoth task for the President to be elected in 1960. Kubitschek was already aiming at a comeback in 1965, so he supported the idea of not nominating a PSD candidate in 1960 and leave the bad stuff for another person not associated with the PSD.

Nothing followed his plan. The PSD did nominate a candidate, the legalist Marshal Henrique Lott, uncharismatic and not used to politics, while Adhemar stood again for the PSP. However, Adhemar had been defeated in 1954 in São Paulo by Jânio Quadros, originally an ugly and obscure professor obsessed with Abraham Lincoln. The eccentric and clownish Quadros became known for his anti-corruption struggle in São Paulo and had an extremely rapid accession to the top of Brazilian politics. Quadros threw his hat into the race and campaigned on a platform vowing to get rid of corruption, symbolized by his broom, his campaign symbol. Supported by small parties but most importantly by the UDN and Lacerda who saw Jânio as their only hope to win power, he won 48.3% of the vote against 32.9% for Lott and 19.6% for Adhemar. Jânio had a wide personal appeal, extending to the working-class, where a Jan-Jan movement emerged. The movement urged voters to split their votes between Jânio, the UDN candidate and Goulart, Jango, running for re-election as Vice President as Lott’s PTB running-mate. The Jan-Jan movement won both the presidency and vice presidency, and the UDN won the presidency. The UDN was certain that Quadros would be their man and that they had no need to fear Goulart.

Jânio started out well for them, nominating orthodox liberal economists and supporting an IMF-prescribed anti-inflation package at the outset. But the UDN should have known better than trust the eccentric and unpredictable Jânio, who put more interest in his little corruption, prosecutions which notably had Goulart investigated, or his efforts to ban the bikini and miniskirts. He also installed red and green lights outside his office to signal cabinet ministers for the correct time to come in. While his economic policy originally aligned with the IMF-UDN line, it was his foreign policy which caused the UDN – and the US – grief. Castro had come to power in 1959 and the threat of communism scared the UDN’s bigwigs and the US policymakers in Latin America. Quadros had sparked fear when he visited Castro while campaigning in 1960, but in 1961 he began a policy which turned Brazil, to American eyes, dangerously red. He welcomed Che Guevara, he opened up negotiations with Moscow and the Eastern Bloc and said that he would vote for admission of Communist China to the UN. Lacerda was becoming disappointed with his crazy stooge. On August 25, he likely got rip-roaringly drunk, as always, and suddenly resigned and left the country. That meant that the man the UDN and anti-Vargistas hated the most, the man they drew darts at every night, João Goulart, would become President. The military was, however, in no mood to agree to Jango’s accession to power. In fact, Jango was in Communist China when Quadros had gotten drunk and resigned. However, helped by his brother-in-law, Leonel Brizola, Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, the pro-Jango side of the equation, supported by the army based in Porto Alegre, mounted a legalist response to the feared military coup which would prevent Jango from taking over. A compromise was finally reached between both sides in Congress which imposed a parliamentary system, complete with Prime Minister, on Jango as the condition for his taking over the reins of the country, which he did on September 7.

Goulart’s first goal in power was to do his out most to regain full powers for himself. Unions staged strikes which weakened already feeble parliamentary governments and Goulart finally was able to win from Congress a plebiscite on the parliamentary system to be held in January 1963. Voters approved a return to traditional presidentialist politics and Goulart won back the powers he had wanted. Now in full power, Goulart turned his attention to the economic situation. Inflation grew from 35% in 1961 to 78% in 1963, making a stabilization plan a necessity. To lead his tough stabilization plan, which he negotiated with the IMF and the US, were two brilliant economists; Santiago Dantas and Celso Furtado who supported structuralist economics. The planned stabilization was certain to be tough and painful, and hurt the union base of the PTB. Goulart seemed determined to stick with it, but not for long. Santiago Dantas resigned in June 1963. Goulart was falling victim to the radical ‘agitators’ on the left; notably Leonel Brizola, Liberation theology Catholic priests, radical students in the UNE union and communists who made Goulart believe that they could provide him with a political base which would provide him strong support both electorally and politically in these times of crisis. The first question is, how did Goulart allow himself to get used? Goulart was never a sensational orator or charismatic person of great worth and had few political skills of his own, so, to be fair, he was largely a tool, though a tool concerned mostly with getting himself a stable political base of support which moderates like Santiago Dantas and Celso Furtado failed to provide. Of course, the problem with being a tool is that you get used, and in this case, his brother-in-law used him.

In 1964, Goulart moved forward to announce major “basic reforms”. These basic reforms included:

  1. educational reform: combating illiteracy and setting up literacy campaigns in rural areas run by the Church and the Education Ministry
  2. tax reform: controlling profit remittances of foreign companies, forcing these companies to invest profits in Brazil
  3. electoral reform: expanding the vote to illiterates and enlisted men in the military
  4. land reform: expropriation of properties larger than 600 hectares and redistribution of these lands
  5. urban reform: people could only own a single house

None of these reforms seem particularly radical to the society of 2010, but for the Brazil of 1964, Goulart was proposing radical changes and proposing them very fast, though some doubt the sincerity of these reforms given that Goulart himself was a landowner – owning a ranch in his home state. On March 13, Jango organized a mass rally in Rio which marked the end of his conciliatory conservative policies and the beginning of his radical reforms. He signed a decree expropriating private land near federal roads or highways with no compensation and another nationalizing oil refineries. On March 25, a sailor’s revolt erupted in Rio led by sailors who demanded better conditions and who supported Goulart’s reforms. The Navy Minister sent in marines to break up the revolt, but the marines sided with the sailors and Goulart had the Navy Minister fired and later pardoned the sailors arrested for mutiny. This was the cherry on the cake for the military, which was growingly opposed to Goulart, most specifically his attempt to give the vote to NCOs and enlisted men. The middle-classes, who were now suffering badly from inflation which reached 90% in 1964, were also growingly opposed to Goulart’s radical turn. The elite as a whole was stringently opposed to Goulart because they viewed his reforms as part of a dangerous and unacceptable plan to create a class-wide worker-peasant alliance like Castro had done in Cuba. Vargas had shaken the social structure after 1930, but organization of union workers remained acceptable to the power brokers of Brazil, and, after all, Vargas was largely aligned with these power brokers. However, a worker-peasant alliance was poison to the elite in Brazil or any other Latin American country. It was simply unacceptable.

Military Rule: 1964-1985

So the military utilized its veto power and staged a coup. There were small and uncoordinated troop movements early on March 31, but the spark to the coup was phone call between General Kruel and Goulart, in which Goulart acted brazenly and countermanded Kruel’s demand that he break with the left. In the afternoon of April 1, Goulart flew to Brasília in an attempt to stop the coup but he had no military support on his side and the radical left had no base with which to defend Goulart, and, after all, Goulart declined Brizola’s offer to spark insurgency because he refused bloodshed. Goulart fled Brazil to Uruguay in the evening of April 1 and the Congress declared the Presidency vacant on April 2. Lyndon Johnson’s United States remained on the sidelines, but closely supported the right’s coup. US Ambassador Lincoln Gordon called the coup one of the brightest days in democracy’s history.

However, in April 1964, many still expected the military to hand power back to the civilians. Indeed, constitutional law had been followed when the President of the Chamber, Ranieri Mazzilli, became President on April 2 when Congress declared the Presidency vacant (of doubtful legality given that Goulart never resigned and only left Brazilian territory on April 4). Carlos Lacerda, likely the UDN’s candidate in the 1965 election, was most certainly hoping that Mazzilli would rule peacefully until 1965 when elections would be held on schedule. However, the military was fed up with the civilians. They had supported the various attempts of the UDN at keeping Vargas-JK-Jango out of power, and their man in Quadros turned out to be a madly drunk lunatic.

Finally, on April 15, Congress elected Humberto Castelo Branco, one of the coup’s leaders, to the presidency. Earlier, Congress had passed Institutional Act 1 (AI-1), which stripped dissidents of their political rights and led to the arrest of many notable politicians or warrant for the arrests of them. Later, the government passed AI-2 which dissolved all political parties and created a strict two-party system with the pro-military National Renovation Alliance (ARENA) and the ‘opposition’ Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). The presidential election in 1965 was cancelled, but the dictatorship did allow state elections to be held in eleven states in 1965. The government won six of them, but the opposition triumphed easily in the largest states. In response, the government passed AI-3 which expanded indirect election to include the offices of Governor and mayor. Yet, the military government in Brazil remained unusually tame and “nice” in the regional context of regional dictatorial maniacs such as Pinochet, Stroessner or Videla. In 1967, the government passed a new constitution which finally repealed that of 1946. Opposition grew, and coupists such as Carlos Lacerda broke with the government, but the opposition remained weak and suppressed. On the economic stage, Castelo Branco’s government allied with liberal economist Roberto Campos to bring inflation under control, and he was largely successful in cutting inflation to 27% by 1967. Campos and Castelo Branco’s policies were pro-business, pro-foreign investment and anti-union.

Castelo Branco’s term ended a bit after schedule in March 1967, when he was succeded by his War Minister and military hard-liner Artur da Costa e Silva. Some say that Costa e Silva wanted to liberalize the military regime. However, on June 26, 1968, a peaceful march of 100,000 opponents following the killing of a 17-year old student in March, forced the government to pass AI-5 which suspended habeas corpus and regular rule of law, in addition to the dissolution of Congress. AI-5 was only repealed in 1978. Costa e Silva’s alleged aim to liberalize the regime in 1969 was prevented by his untimely stroke in August 1969 and his subsequent removal from power. A junta took over and prevented a civilian Vice President from taking power, instead handing over in October 1969 to hard-liner Emílio Garrastazu Médici, who ushered in one of the most repressive periods in Brazilian history.

Medici and a good friend

Médici came into power at the moment when various communist or Maoist guerrilla groups were stepping up their insurgency, both urban and rural, and embarrassing the government with kidnappings of foreign ambassadors. Though these guerrillas were largely revolutionary student movements with little support on the ground, the government took the hard line in dealing with them. Giving full powers to the military and secret police, Médici presided over a disproportionately harsh crackdown on the guerrillas, which were practically eliminated by 1971. It was also during this time, between 1968 and 1973, that Brazil experienced its so-called “economic miracle”. Thanks to foreign investment, structural reforms (which had cut inflation to roughly 15-20% a year) and some government intervention in the economy, but also tough government control over the labour force and low declining real wages, Brazil experienced GDP growth of nearly 10% between 1968 and 1973. The middle-class grew, consumption grew and modern technologies such as colour televisions and new cars were introduced. The victory of Brazil in the 1970 World Cup also contributed to a feeling of good times and middle-class euphoria. However, the miracle hid increasing social disparity between the richest and poorest fueled by the decline in real wages, meaning that the Brazil of the miracle years were amongst the most unequal years in Brazilian history. The Médici government also presented a nationalist aspect, and, unlike what is commonly thought, was not entirely an American stooge. The government encouraged growth and development in the Amazonian hinterland, built with Paraguay the Itaipu dam.

Médici’s term came to an end in 1974 and he was replaced by Ernesto Geisel. Geisel represented the moderate current of the military leadership, which, in 1964, came to power not with the intention of prolonging their stay but rather to preside over a clean up of the mess created by the civilians and “communists” and then restore constitutional order. In that regard, Geisel began a liberalization, albeit slow and progessive, of the regime which became known as the distensão. Some say that the distensão became a necessity after the 1973-1974 oil shock had led to a major increase in inflation (from roughly 23% to 35% in one year), an economic headache which had also led to increased contestation of the government, most notably by the opposition MDB and trade unions. Lula became president of a metalworker’s trade union in this context in 1975, and by 1979 he was a major strike leader as contestation from the working-class increased. Geisel was replaced in 1979 by João Batista de Oliveira Figueiredo, who would continue the distensão.

Both Geisel and Figueiredo faced staunch opposition to their slow liberalization from the hard-right of the military, the linha dura, which was strong in the Second Army based in São Paulo and in the DOI-Codi, the intelligence service which had grown independent of the presidency. The Second Army and DOI-Codi were responsible for the death in jail of opposition journalist Vladimir “Vlado” Herzog in 1975, and were working their best to halt the distensão. In 1976, Geisel fired the Second Army’s commander and in 1977 fired the War Minister. Yet, the revolt of the linha dura continued well into Figueiredo’s term. In 1981, after DOI-Codi had set off a bomb at a concert in Rio, Figueiredo finally brokered a deal with the hard-right which forced them to accept the government’s will, but, in return, they would not be prosecuted for their crimes.

Opposition, fueled by rising inflation (110% in 1980, and over 200% between 1983 and 1985) which had wrecked the fortunes of the upper and middle-class, the regime’s base of support, was growing and more and more universal. The MDB, whose figures included the likes of Ulysses Guimarães, Franco Montoro and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, was rejuvenated and growingly active. The MDB represented liberal professionals and intellectuals, people like Cardoso, a prominent sociologist who had lived in and out of Brazil since 1964. The trade unions and their firebrand leader Lula were on strike demanding better conditions and wages more often throughout 1979 and 1980. The rank-and-file Catholic Church, influenced since the 1960s by liberation theology, was siding with the unions and even siding with the landless movement (MST). By 1979, the government had liberalized the law on political parties and broken the rigid bi-partisan ARENA/MDB structure of politics, allowing a proliferation of parties. The government hoped that the explosion of parties would divide the opposition and keep the government’s party on top. New parties were created between 1979 and 1982, when free elections were to be held. Lula and the “grassroots” trade unionists founded the Workers’ Party (PT), while Leonel Brizola and Vargas’ niece Ivete fought over the name PTB. The latter won the right to recreate the PTB, which became a conservative fraud outfit, while Brizola founded the Democratic Labour Party (PDT). In the 1982 elections, the opposition MDB did particularly well in the major states, while the PDS-ARENA kept an iron hand on the economically backwards and clientelist Nordeste. The PT did rather poorly, winning 5% only in São Paulo (9.9%) and Acre (5.4%). Leonel Brizola was elected Governor of Rio de Janeiro for the PDT.

By 1983 and 1984, the opposition was united in a popular campaign known as Diretas Já, a campaign demanding the election of the president by direct popular vote rather than by the regime-dominated electoral college. Despite increasing repression and Figueiredo’s derision of the protesters as subversives, the public was galvanized and in April 1984 over a million protesters took to the streets of Rio and São Paulo. The demand for direct elections were taken to Congress by PMDB deputy Dante de Oliveira who proposed a constitutional amendment establishing the direct election of the President. In a much watched vote on April 25, the amendment received the support of 298 deputies and the opposition of 65 deputies, but the absence of 112 pro-government deputies had saved the day for the government and the amendment was rejected.

The centrist faction of the opposition: that is, people like Cardoso or Guimarães, were determined to go on despite the setback and work for change within the system. That meant, running a candidate in the regularly-scheduled 1985 election of the president by the electoral college. The PMDB allied with ‘liberal’ leaders of the regime and the PDT in a “Democratic Alliance” which nominated Tancredo Neves, an honest and well-liked senior politician who had been active in politics since Vargas’ second term and maintained amicable links with the military. His running mate was José Sarney, a supporter of the regime and local baron in the state of Maranhão.

Re-democratization and inflation (1985-1989)

In January 1985, Neves was elected President by the Electoral College in a landslide with 72% of votes cast against the regime’s candidate, the corrupt and hated Paulo Maluf. Despite being elected with the votes of the PDS, Neves made it clear that he would lead a massive reform of politics and usher in a democratic government. However, on March 14, the day before the inauguration, he was rushed to the hospital suffering from abdominal pains, and finally died on April 21. Not without question from certain people, Sarney was inaugurated on March 15. Some argued that since Neves had never been formally sworn in, Sarney was not Vice President when he became President and that the Presidency should have gone to Ulysses Guimarães, the president of the lower house. However, the PMDB feared that the military would object to Guimarães because of his staunch opposition to the regime in years past.

Sarney, despite being a member of the military’s corrupt old clique for the Nordeste did preside over,  between 1985 and 1990, the gradual re-democratization of Brazil which resulted in the country’s current constitution, the constitution of 1988. Notably, the constitution guaranteed the direct election of the president, who was eligible for only one term but was also riddled with giveaways to interest groups, lobbyists and most notably the old cliques. Indeed, the old cliques who had stood behind the military until the near end, did not go out of fashion. During Sarney’s tenure, the government bureaucracy exploded in size and federal government spending, most of it pork, grew dramatically. All this while inflation was reaching new heights. In 1986, Sarney’s government passed the Cruzado Plan to fight inflation: it would freeze prices for twelve months, introduce a new currency (the cruzado), automatic correction of wages with inflation and the end of the indexation of prices. However, government spending was not controlled and generous minimum wages for civil servants boosted demand but could not be counterbalanced because of the wage freeze. That being said, the plan worked on the short-term, and, arguably, that’s all the government wanted. Indeed, there were elections coming up in 1986, and the ruling PMDB won a majority in Congress and swept 22 out of 23 gubernatorial races.

After a respite in 1986, inflation boomed to over 400% in 1987. In 1990, it was 1477%. Three inflation plans passed by the government failed between 1986 and 1990. Sarney became deeply unpopular, few Brazilians trusted the government and, as a result, the ruling clique could not impose a candidate of “continuity” in the 1989 elections – the first direct election of the president since 1960.

Maps showing the structure of the votes for the top 4 candidates in 1989

A whole of twenty-two candidates stood for election in November 1989. Most notably, Lula stood for the PT and was supported by the PT’s traditional allies: the Socialist Party (PSB) and the Maoist Communists (PCdoB). By 1989, Lula had emerged as a well-known and even well-liked leader of the trade union movement and his thick black beard made him look like Fidel. Lula, staunchly socialist, was a good candidate for those dissatisfied with the social situation and the government. He faced competition from the old Leonel Brizola, standing for the PDT, who sought to recreate Vargas’ corporatist union system (which Lula had worked towards destroying while leading his union). More to the centre, Mário Covas stood for the new Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), founded in 1988 by liberal dissidents from the PMDB, denouncing the increasingly unideological and corrupt nature of the party. Its founders included Cardoso, José Serra and Franco Montoro. However, the elite and middle-class, scared out of this world by Lula, rallied behind a rather unknown but good-looking and flashy young man, Fernando Collor de Mello, elected Governor of Alagoas – a small northeastern state – in 1986. Collor campaigned on vague platitudes of reform, eliminating corruption and tax cuts, but that was enough for the elite. In the first round, he won 28.5% against 16.1% for Lula who narrowly outpaced Brizola who won 15.5% despite winning landslides in Rio and Rio Grande do Sul. Covas won 10.8% while Paulo Maluf, standing for the conservative wing of the old military regime, won 8.3%. Brizola reluctantly backed Lula, as did the PSDB. Collor viciously attacked Lula, accusing him of pushing his mistress to abort his illegitimate daughter, who was 15 in 1989. Furthermore, the old Globo empire, which had enjoyed a cozy relationship with the military regime, practically rigged the debates in Collor’s favour by later showing edited footage with Lula seemingly uncomfortable or poor. In the end, Collor won 49.9% to Lula 44.2% in the runoff. The rather unknown but flashy and extravagant Collor, the Brazilian Kennedy to some, had won.

Defeating inflation (1989-2002)

Collor took office in 1990 and launched his own plan, the Plano Collor. The plan aimed to privatize many companies, cut taxes, reduce the bureaucracy but most importantly it overnight froze savings accounts and freezing wages and prices. Many public servants were laid off in addition. While inflation in 1991 dropped to ‘only’ 480%, the shock tactics did not work because unions and interest groups negotiated ways out of the wage and price freezes and the resulting decrease in the amount of money in circulation and the decline in the gross national product led to a recession. In February 1991, he tried again, and in May 1991 he fired his finance minister and tried a third Collor Plan which was not successful as inflation remained at hyperinflationary level. Inflation boomed back to 1158% in 1992.

I'm a crook!

At the same time, allegations of graft and corruption in the government were coming to light. At first, prominent politicians had trouble believing such allegations. While corruption and graft was commonplace in Brazil, it usually involved congressmen and lower-level politicians. Most Presidents, notably Vargas, Dutra or the military rulers, had not amassed wealth for themselves and corruption in their governments did not involve them directly. Collor, after all, was different. Brazil never had a president who climbed mountains and flew fighter jets before, neither had they had a president who was a crook himself before. His family and clique from Alagoas were demanding bribes and taking profit of the privatizations Collor had begun. His campaign manager, PC Farias, amassed millions for himself and Collor’s clique using originally the surplus of Collor’s fundraising in the 1989 campaign. Collor himself, it was revealed, had used these funds to renovate his villa in Brasília. Family solidarity broke down as Collor’s brother revealed information to the media. In response, by 1992, demonstrations by students with the flag painted on their face against Collor were growing in size and an impeachment movement in Congress was gaining speed. On September 29, 1992; the Chamber voted 441-38 to impeach him but he resigned on December 29 before the Senate could vote on his impeachment. They did so anyways and stripped him of his political rights for 8 years. Collor was the victim of his own greed, his family’s greed and graft in a climate of hyperinflation and dissatisfaction with the government.

His Vice President, Itamar Franco, a member of the PMDB, was a little-known man whom Collor had pick as to make sure he would not overshadow him. His main virtue was his honesty, but in a climate of hyperinflation, massive hyperinflation in fact, reaching nearly 2500% in 1993, honesty wasn’t worth much. Some economists had said that, judging from the failures of presidents since Sarney at least, inflation could not be defeated in Brazil because it had become too ingrained and stemmed from fundamental structural inadequacies in the Brazilian economy. But Itamar couldn’t throw up his hands in defeat, because inflation was a social crisis. Prices were rising so fast, money losing its values in seconds, that some became genuinely scared that inflation would breed conflict and violence in Brazil. Itamar tried to fight inflation throughout early 1993 with little success. He had a short fuse and expected results quickly, something his finance ministers couldn’t provide. Finally, in May 1993, Itamar called on his foreign minister, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to become finance minister. Cardoso, a former Senator but mostly remembered for his work as a leftist intellectual and sociologist, as well as an opponent of the dictatorship, was possibly the best man for the job. Unlike his predecessors, he had little to no political clientèle to which he was tied that he needed to please or appease nor had he, at the outset, much ambition in politics. He assembled a team of able technocrats to come up with a plan and a new currency which would be announced in phases.

In his memoirs, Cardoso points to excessive government spending creating a massive annual deficit as the root of inflation. The government, he explained, would print out loads more money to cover the deficit. This was an old tradition and inflation, hyperinflation by 1993, had become ingrained. Indexation of prices and wage increases to cover inflation guaranteed a floor, and thus the more people expected prices to rise, the more they would. The main tenet of Cardoso’s Plano Real was the introduction of a new indexation unit, the URV, equal to US$1.  all prices were quoted in these two currencies, cruzeiro real and URV, but payments had to be made exclusively in cruzeiros reais. Prices quoted in URV did not change over time, while their equivalent in cruzeiros reais increased nominally every day. The URV is better explained by Wikipedia here. Cardoso’s plan also included public spending cuts of roughly US$6 billion and requiring indebted states to pay off their debts to the federal government. Unlike in the past, the government did not freeze prices. The culmination was the introduction in July 1994 of a new currency, the real, which would be tied to the URV, and thus the US dollar.

Cardoso and Lula in earlier, happier days

1994, of course, was an election year. Lula, who had been touring Brazil in his “caravan of citizenship” since his 1989 defeat and propelled to the top of the polls by frustration at Collor’s corruption but also at the failure of inflation plans, was rather certain to face an easier fight than in 1989, likely running against Paulo Maluf, who had managed to be elected mayor of São Paulo. However, he misunderestimated the effect of the Real Plan on the election. Introduced just as Brazil won a fourth World Cup victory in the summer of 1994, the real had immediate success. The poorest Brazilians now had tangible currency worth something, while the middle-classes could indulge in an orgy of consumer spending. Lula, however, insisted throughout that the plan would fail like the Cruzado Plan had failed in 1986. Although Cardoso at the outset was reluctant to run, he decided to run by the summer either out of ambition or out of genuine concern for his plan if Lula won. The traditional right, although skeptical at first of the Real Plan and lukewarm to the idea of cutting spending, backed Cardoso who picked a political boss from the Nordeste, Marco Maciel as his running-mate. He also had the support of the Bahian political boss, Antônio Carlos Magalhães, one of the leaders of the Liberal Front Party (PFL). Cardoso stole the lead from Lula in late July and his poll ratings kept climbing as inflation kept dwindling. In 1985, Cardoso had narrowly lost a race for mayor of São Paulo to Jânio Quadros who had notably attacked Cardoso as an elitist or a “pot-smoking atheist”. But in 1994, the electorate had none of it. Attacks which painted Cardoso as an elitist and haughty intellectual failed. The electorate now had a tangible currency which was worth something. In October, Cardoso won by the first round with 54.3% against 27% for Lula and 7.4% for nationalist candidate Enéas Ferreira Carneiro.

Cardoso was lucky in his first term. The real, seen by foreign investors as a stable currency, was backed by the Central Bank and tightly controlled but foreign money ran into Brazil and at certain times in 1995 the real was even stronger than the US dollar. Cardoso’s stated aim as president was to turn Brazil into a modern, stable free-market society and ending the traditional compromises, side-deals and pork-barrel politics made with political parties and politicians. That, however, was easier said than done. Cardoso’s party, the PSDB, was not by itself a major party, and its ally, the PFL, heirs of the more liberal supporters of the military regime, was a clientelistic party based in the Nordeste, the least ‘capitalist’ of Brazil’s regions. The PFL’s northeastern political bosses still demanded pork and advantages in return for supporting Cardoso’s reforms. While providing his PFL allies with the pork they wanted, Cardoso did undertake major reforms of the economic system with the aim of making Brazil more competitive in the globalized world. In 1997, he removed Petrobrás’ monopoly on oil despite widespread opposition from the left. Also in 1997, the CVRD, an old state-run steel company created by Vargas was privatized. CVRD now enjoys large profits and is the largest private company in Brazil. In 1998, he privatized the inefficient and archaic state-run telecommunications company, Telebrás, again despite opposition from the left and lobbyists who felt that their advantages in archaic state-run companies would be lost if Cardoso undertook neoliberal reforms. However, Cardoso in his memoirs defends himself from being a neoliberal, noting that public spending increased during his tenure and that he did not move to privatize what he saw as efficient public structures such as Petrobrás. Cardoso effectively shielded Brazil from the abrupt fallout of neoliberal privatizations and reforms which had hurt Argentina under Carlos Menem’s presidency in the 1990s.  On the foreign stage, Brazil’s turn to a more free-market economy pleased foreign investors and Cardoso became the darling of foreign businessmen and leaders. He played a leading role in creating the Southern Cone’s common market, the Mercosul/Mercosur.

The 1988 constitution blocked re-election for officeholders, likely a block to potential dictators or power-hungry leaders. In 1997, Cardoso proposed a constitutional amendment which would allow all officeholders to serve two consecutive terms. With much arm twisting and likely some typically Brazilian side-deals and arrangements, Congress acquiesced to Cardoso’s request and passed the amendment by a large margin. And thus, to no one’s surprise, Cardoso ran for re-election. However, by 1998, the real was in more trouble and Brazil was hit by a financial crisis which had begun in Asia in 1997 and spread to Russia in 1998. Yet, Cardoso presented himself as a port in the storm and as the sane choice for stability against Lula, still seen as too radical and erratic. Cardoso’s line worked, and in October 1998, he won 53.1% of the votes against 31.7% for Lula and 11% for Ciro Gomes.

Cardoso’s second term was far from as successful as his first one. World markets were erratic and in constant state of panic or unrest, and Brazil itself was relatively feeble. In late 1998, the Congress, keen on keeping it’s pork machine intact, effectively killed an IMF loan which required more spending cuts. Then in January 1999, Itamar Franco, now PMDB Governor of Minas Gerais, defaulted on the state’s debt and sent shockwaves of panic throught Brazil’s debt-ridden federative entities. Later that month, the government finally devalued the real and held its breath as the real was left to fend for itself. Unlike what economists had predicted, Brazil held up relatively well in 1999 and did not sink back into inflation. Brazil wasn’t doing great by 2000, but it was at the very least financially stable. The Argentine crisis of 2001 and power cuts in mid-2001 rendered the government more and more unpopular.

Progress amidst corruption (2002-2006)

"Take your glasses, Fernando Henrique; I'll take the sash"

Losing three consecutive times, Lula in 2002 was determined to win – by whatever means necessary. His candidacy for a fourth time at the head of the PT was not in much question, after all, Lula remained the figure of the left and the opposition in Brazil. In 2002, Lula portrayed himself as a new man. Instead of the grumpy Castro-like figure of 1989 or the angry and pesky figure of the 90s, Lula in 2002 was an older man and portrayed himself as “Lula, Peace and Love”. He dropped his most left-wing talking points and agreed to continue Cardoso’s macroeconomic policies and to not undertake what Collor had accused him of wanting in 1989, namely defaulting on the country’s foreign debt and expropriating private land to push for land reform. Lula’s choice of a running-mate in 2002 also symbolized his new centre-left coalition-builder nature. In 1989, Lula’s running mate, José Paulo Bisol, was from the PSB, a left-wing party close to the PT since the start. In 1994, his running mate was Aloísio Mercadante, a PT stalwart while in 1998 his running-mate was an ageing Leonel Brizola (he died in 2004). In 2002, Lula chose not from the PT or the party’s old allies on the left (most notable of which were the PSB and PCdoB), but from a small right-wing party, the PL, in the person of José Alencar, a self-made businessman from Minas Gerais. On the government’s side, the President, for the first time in a long time, could impose his choice for a successor on his party in the person of José Serra, his health minister and former student activist he had met while in exile in Chile. Though foreign businessmen remained skeptic about Lula’s embrace of capitalism and the middle-class, Brazilians did not and his new strategy of alliance with formerly undesirable elements on the clientelistic right paid off. In the first round, Lula won 46.4% to Serra’s 23.2%; while the evangelical-populist-clown governor of Rio Anthony Garotinho took 17.9% and Ciro Gomes pulled 12%. In the runoff, Lula beat Serra with 61.3% against 38.7% for the PSDB’s candidate.

Foreign markets and liberal economists remained convinced that Lula, like the Peronist government in Argentina, would default on Brazil’s foreign debt; so their reluctance to trust Lula’s conversion to the merits of the free-market saw the real’s value dwindle again. Lula finally showed his embrace of the free-market in his nomination of Henrique Meirelles as President of the Central Bank. Meirelles, apart from being a newly elected PSDB deputy, was a former international banker in the US and had an American business education. Lula and his financial team remained committed to financial stability, Cardoso’s macroeconomics and high interest rates. In 2004, he also committed himself to continuing Cardoso’s reform of the Vargas-era archaic and unsound public employee’s pension fund which was costing the state much money. His centrist positions economically, in a clear break from the PT’s socialist past, led members of the party’s left, notably Alagoas Senator Heloísa Helena to walk out of the party and form the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), which became one of the PT’s staunchest critics. In one way, and it may sound quite ironic, but Lula has turned the PT somewhat into a New Labour-like ‘Third Way’ party committed to finding a place for social programs within a capitalist society. It is less surprising considering how many Brazilian politicians have changed ideologically in twenty years or so.

Poverty and inequality in Brazil since 1990 (source: Economist)

Lula had committed himself to social programs in his 2002 campaign and followed through on his promise. In 2003, he launched Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), a wide-ranging program designed to combat rural and urban malnutrition. Later on, Lula launched his government’s main claim to fame, the much successful and widely acclaimed Bolsa Família (Family Grant), a very wide-ranging program which basically provides financial aid to poor family on conditions including proper education for their children and proper vaccination for their children. Bolsa Família currently gives a monthly stipend of about US$12  per child attending school, to a maximum of three children, to all families with income below the poverty line. Lula’s government also supported a rural electrification program among other social programs, but reforms in Brazil’s outdated education and healthcare system among others have been hard to pass and also let to divisions within the PT, notably leading Lula’s first education minister, Cristovam Buarque, to run as the PDT’s candidate in the 2006 election. Yet, Bolsa Família and other programs have gone a long way in reducing Brazil’s rating on poverty and inequality ratings even though Brazil’s rating on the Gini index remains poor and highlights that the work is not yet over in a country infamous notably for gross income inequality, notably in the Nordeste.

Land reform had been an issue in Brazil since the 1960s, but it had been put on the shelves by the military regimes who had little interest in threatening the established interests of the latifúndios. The landless peasants had been organized since the 1980s in a landless movement known as the MST, which by 2000 had become one of the largest pressure groups in Brazil. The MST was well-known for seizing private land or occupying allegedly unproductive land and setting up camps and settlements on this land, where the MST developed a culture of their own, opposed to state institutions and exploring green agriculture and developing a radical democratic culture. The Cardoso government, connected to the latifúndios through its alliance with the PFL, had done little in terms of agrarian reform though some had been done. The PT, which had been historically linked to the MST and used to work hand-in-hand in the PT’s early radical days, did little in its first year in power for agrarian reform with limited re-settlement and land reform. Lula’s government did not do more for agrarian reform because the moderate style of the new Lula and his party could not afford to take the old radical approach to land reform. Big agrobusiness; exporting soy, beef, ethanol fuel and coffee; remained a very important employer in Brazil and accounted for a lot of Brazil’s exports. These big agrobusinesses, a number of which were concentrated in big ranches in the centre-west, were not well seen by the MST or the old left, but Lula could not afford to alienate this top employer and economic machine. In encouraging these big agrobusinesses, Lula also ran into trouble with environmentalists who were protesting against the massive and sometimes illegal deforestation practiced by these big businesses. His government thus had to juggle between the pro-development and growth views of his agriculture or mines ministers and the environmentalist views of his environment minister. Continued deforestation led the Greens to pull out of his government.

Four old friends

Crime and guns have long been an under-the-radar political issue in Brazil, but criminality and guns have long been a major problem in Brazil. In 2004, according to statistics, some 34,000 people had been murdered in gun-related violence. Gun law reform by Congress in 2003 had resulted in a 92% decline in gun sales between 2003 and 2005, but in 2005 parliamentarians had managed to organize a referendum which would ban gun sales in the entire country. Polls ahead of this 2005 referendum indicated that a large majority of voters would vote ‘yes’, that is in favour of the ban on guns, but a massive well-funded counterattack by gun groups and the media later in the campaign turned the mood around from 66% in favour in polls to 63.9% against on polling day in October 2005. This setback for anti-gun lobbies showed the fickleness of the Brazilian public’s mood and their easy ability to change their views with the mood the day – something their politicians are well known for. In 2006, gang-related violence by the PCC, a drug-trafficking criminal gang based in São Paulo’s jails killed over 100 people in the state of São Paulo. Ahead of the 2006 election, the criminality in São Paulo reflected poorly on the PSDB government of Geraldo Alckmin, who had refused federal troops to contain the situation. The archaic and overcrowded state of Brazilian jails was put into the spotlight with these riots in the spring of 2006.

Lula’s government became consumed in 2005 and even 2006 by a major corruption scandal which became one of the largest corruption scandals in Brazilian history. As will be explained in more detail later in this article, Brazil since 1985 has had a very multi-party system lacking ideological polarization or even real ideological battles. In fact, Congress after 1990 became dominated by not only the four largest parties (PMDB, PT, PSDB, PFL) but by the partidos nanicos (tiny parties) which were personalist pork machines totally lacking ideology. The PTB (ironically taking the name of Vargas’ party), led by Roberto Jefferson, is the best example of these parties whose support made or broke a government and who required perks in return for supporting a government. Lula’s appeal to the wider Brazilian public in 2002 had included allying with these unsavoury corrupt parties which he had denounced in his early career.

In May 2005, it was revealed by secret tapes that the government had given the PTB the right to name executives to a major electricity company in return for support of the government, while the PTB extracted large bribes from these private companies to finance the party. Roberto Jefferson, a clownish figure, saw his spoils and perks being threatened, so he decided to become a whistleblower. In a shocking revelation, he showed that the PT’s leadership in Congress paid the deputies of small parties, such as the PTB, a mensalão or monthly allowance/salary. Jefferson kept revealing juicy details which implicated top PT leaders such as José Dirceu, the President’s Chief of Staff (Casa Civil, a ministerial position in Brazil), and José Genoíno; and also private businessmen who had big contracts with the government and who were funneling money to deputies. Dirceu and Genoíno were forced to resign in the summer of 2005. It was also revealed that Duda Mendonça, a controversial marketing genius who had gotten Lula elected in 2002, was receiving payments from the PT to an illegal offshore bank account. Next focus shifted to Antonio Palocci, Lula’s finance minister whose conservative policies had re-assured investors and allowed Brazil’s economy to prosper in 2004 and 2005. It was revealed that Palocci had been taking monthly bribes from businesses in a city which he governed before coming to cabinet in 2002. Palocci left in August 2005 and was replaced by Guido Mantega. Severino Cavalcanti, the President of the Chamber of Deputies (a plum post with much power and spoils), was also involved in a bribery scandal and later forced to resign. Yet, despite the apparent vastness of corruption, parliamentary investigations and police crackdowns did their jobs and those guilty of corruption were expelled, forced to resign or most often defeated at the polls in 2006. The corruption furor died down by the spring 2006, though by that time the ambulance scandal and the Serra dossier got out and did cause some trouble for Lula in the 2006 election. Basically, in the ambulance scandal, deputies passed amendments to the budget allowing municipalities to buy ambulances at inflated prices in return for which deputies got 10% of the cash. Cracking down on another scandal in the Health Ministry, the police in 2006 arrested a PT treasurer who had bought a falsified dossier which sought to tarnish José Serra’s image ahead of the 2006 election, in which he was running as the PSDB’s nominee for governor of São Paulo. Of course, the question comes up, what did Lula know about this? During the scandal, he remained above the fray and made rare statements which were all over the place either condemning corruption, backing his closest allies like Dirceu, justifying corruption in Brazilian politics or later taking credit for firing Dirceu and Palocci in 2005. In late 2005 and early 2006, Lula was personally depressed by these corruptions and felt that he had been lied to and cheated on by his closest allies. He was increasingly pessimistic about his chances of winning re-election in 2006 and maybe even thought of retiring after one term in office.

By the time 2006 rolled around, Lula was looking safer and safer as the furor of the 2005 corruption scandal died down. Yet, Lula remained cautious and only announced his candidacy for re-election in June 2006, even though his candidacy was quasi-certain quite a while before then. The increasingly certain nature of Lula’s re-election in early 2006 likely explains why the PSDB went with a below-average candidate in the person of Geraldo Alckmin. The two main candidates for the PSDB’s nomination were José Serra, who had been elected mayor of São Paulo in 2004 picking up the city from the PT’s Marta Suplicy; and Alckmin, governor of São Paulo since 2001 and a protegé of Mário Covas. Alckmin was introverted, had no charisma and was rumoured to have prickly personal relationships, but he was chosen to be the party’s candidate while Serra would run to take his spot as governor. The PSDB allied once again with the PFL, and Alckmin’s running mate was a pefelista. Meanwhile, the PMDB was divided in its attitude vis-a-vis the election. Its only serious candidate was Anthony Garotinho, the corrupt populist governor of Rio, and the party’s top figures such as José Sarney and Renan Calheiros supported an alliance with the PT. Finally, the PMDB decided not to endorse any federal candidate, thus leaving it free to create state-level alliances of its choice (a new law, called the ‘verticalization’ law, forced parties to ally with the same parties at the state and federal level).

Alckmin, who started slowly running away from Cardoso’s government’s policies, started out low in polls but his anti-corruption message slowly won him more support. Yet, although being a relatively competent governor, the prison riots in São Paulo tarnished Alckmin’s image a bit. Days before the first round, more juicy revelations about the PT’s purchase of the Serra dossier came out and corruption stole the spotlight for some time while Lula refused to appear at a TV debate where he feared his opponents would team up to attack him. The Serra dossier and the perceived arrogance of Lula’s campaign in refusing to debate the other candidates produced a “first round shock” similar to the 1965 first round shock in France. Lula was not re-elected, as planned, by the first round, and won only 48.6% of the vote while Alckmin came up closely behind with 41.6%. Heloísa Helena, the former PT senator turned left-wing opponent of Lula, won 6.9% while Buarque took a paltry 2.6%. Lula learned from the first round shock and picked up his campaign actively. He went back to the PT’s roots with rallies in his home base in São Paulo’s suburbs and other industrial areas where poorer voters were benefiting from his social programs. His attack that Alckmin would repeal these social programs and start privatizations anew worked wonders with these voters, and the PT’s base was motivated while Alckmin failed to capitalize on his first round success and his anti-corruption creed won much flack when he accepted Garotinho’s endorsement. In the runoff, Lula won 60.8% against 39.2% for Alckmin, who saw his support diminish between the first and second round.

Map of the 2006 runoff, red for Lula and blue for Alckmin

The 2006 election reflected an interesting and unusual division of votes in regional clusters, something eerily similar to the US’ red state-blue state divide. In 2002, with approximately the same margin, Lula had come out on top in all states but one, Alagoas. In 2006, with only slightly less votes than in 2002, Lula trailed Alckmin in 7 states including the powerhouse of São Paulo and Vargas’ homestate of Rio Grande do Sul. On the other hand, the PT and the left won huge margins in all the Nordeste states, traditionally the base of conservative parties such as the PFL or the old UDN. The shocking turnaround in the Nordeste was especially striking in Bahia, long time stronghold of the PFL and it’s local baron Antônio Carlos Magalhães, where the PT’s Jaques Wagner’s defeated ACM’s PFL candidate by the first round, likely on Lula’s coattails (polls on September 30 had him down 24pts to the PFL’s Paulo Souto). The 2006 turnaround in the Northeast is widely attributed to Lula’s status as the “father of the poor” and the success of his social policies and social programs in this traditionally poor region. On the other hand, Lula’s more aggressive left-wing campaign style between the two rounds in October 2006 prevented him from winning the middle-class has he had likely done in 2006. Thus why he lost the south, most notably the business heart of Brazil in São Paulo.

In key gubernatorial contests, the PSDB’s Serra won by a strikingly large margin in the first round in São Paulo; while the PSDB’s Aécio Neves, grandson of Tancredo Neves, won a landslide re-election victory in Minas Gerais with over 70% of the votes in the first round. The PT won five races in 2006, most notable of which was Bahia, but lost Rio Grande do Sul to the PSDB in the runoff. In the legislative ballot, the PT emerged with 83 seats out of 513, while the PMDB won 89. The PSDB won 65, as did the PFL. Most notably, despite the re-election of criminals such as Paulo Maluf for the conservative PP, the turnaround in the 2006 legislative ballot was one of the highest ever. Of the 11 mensalão deputies seeking re-election, only four succeeded in their attempt. Among those in the ambulance scandal, 41 were defeated while only 6 were re-elected. The PTB fell from 26 seats in 2002 (though it held nearly 50 after floor-crossing in 2006) to 22. Yet, both Dirceu and Palocci were re-elected for the PT. Finally, in the Senate, Sarney won easy re-election in Amapá for the PMDB while an old face, Fernando Collor de Mello, was elected senator from Alagoas for the tiny PRTB.

Contemporary Brazil (2006-2010)

Lula and Barack Obama, G20 summit

One of the eternal aims of all Brazilians and most notably their presidents is attaining world-power status for Brazil. Predictions of grandeur for the country date back to Vargas’ era and Kubitschek’s Goal Plan and Médici’s development of the interior are all part of the Brazilian government’s attempts, whatever the government’s ideology, to make Brazil a super-power. Most failed, and a majority of them failed epically. So far, it seems that Lula, while not succeeding entirely, has come closest to attaining what Brazil has always wanted for himself on the world stage. Of course, Brazil is not yet a permanent member of the UN Security Council, despite Lula’s extensive lobbying for a seat. But it is slowly emerging not only as a regional power but also an up-and-coming economic power along with India, China, Russia and South Africa. Brazil’s record economic growth predicted for 2010 despite the global economic crisis, is numerical proof of this. Brazil’s escape relatively un-scarred from the troubles in financeland starting in 2008 is further proof. Brazil’s key role in the UN peacekeeping and relief efforts in Haiti is further proof of Brazil’s aim of winning a seat on the Security Council. Lula’s foreign policy since 2002 has been described as “pragmatic”, another break from the PT’s past when it attacked American imperialism and sought alliances with the Latin American left, notably Cuba. Lula’s relations with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have been shaky at times and unlike what some analysts had predicted, there has been no close ideological alliance between Brazil and Venezuela since 2002. Evo Morales’ efforts to nationalize Bolivian gas in 2005 also ran into Brazilian interests, given that Brazilian companies were the biggest foreign firms exploiting Bolivian natural gas. Instead, Lula has aligned himself more with the moderate leaders of the Southern Cone, namely Kirchner in Argentina and Bachelet in Chile until this year. At the same time, Lula’s government has maintained warm relations with Washington, though Lula and Kirchner (alongside Chávez) led the charge against George W. Bush’s proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Once again, Lula in power understood that the idealistic attacks on American imperialism and Washington were not in line with the other idealistic aim of Brazil, that of being a world power. The United States’ needs Brazil’s friendship as well as its natural resources, just as much as Brazil needs the United States’ support, imports and trade. Brazil also needs to be in Washington’s good eyes if it seeks a seat on the UN Security Council. In working towards that goal, Brazil has aligned itself with Germany, India and Japan in seeking a Security Council seat, though Brazil’s stated aim of ‘representing’ predominantly Hispanic Latin America has not won it much support from Argentina or Mexico, which are more than lukewarm to the idea of a Portuguese nation with a different political culture than the rest of the region being able to represent the rest of the largely Spanish-speaking nations of the continent. Brazil’s recent deal, alongside Turkey, with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not been well received in Washington’s inner circles, even though Barack Obama remains friendly with Lula.

Since winning re-election in 2006, Lula has enjoyed a very successful second term free of the corruption and crises of the first. With 78% good opinions in June 2010 and only 4% of bad opinions (and actual approvals nearing 90%), Lula is probably the most popular elected head of state on the planet. His second-term policies to boost economic growth, such as the PAC, have been successful, while the social programs have continued to do their work relatively well in reducing Brazil’s poverty. While Brazilian interest rates remain high, they have come down rather significantly over the long term since 2002, while public spending is relatively well controlled outside of election years. Brazil was notably able to pay off an IMF loan given to Cardoso’s government in 2001 ahead of schedule and overshoot its target of economic growth in 2004-2005. Lula leaves office in January 2011 leaving behind him a much more stable Brazil, but also a stronger Brazil abroad and a more prosperous Brazil at home. Without exaggeration, his record will rival that of Vargas’ in terms of impact on Brazil and it would not be too exaggerated to say that Lula could be called, fairly, Brazil’s best President.

Regions of Brazil

Brazil, with a population of 192,272,890 is the fifth most populous nation in the world (the fourth largest democracy) and is similarly the fifth largest nation with an area of 8,514,877 km2. The nation is united by a common language, Portuguese, a relatively common history and a largely common religion, Catholicism (though evangelical churches have grown in Brazil to around 12% of the population). That being said, the vastness of the land and the past history of the land have also contributed to forging vastly different social and economic regions. The Northeast, or Nordeste, mentioned earlier, is the most well-known of these regions. An overview of Brazil’s five statistical macroregions is provided below.

The Northern Region, composed of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins is Brazil’s most sparsely populated region but also its largest region, comprising over 42% of Brazil’s land area. This area is largely dominated by the massive Amazon rainforest, thus making communications difficult and contributing to the isolation of the region’s main cities which are Manaus and Belém. After a rubber boom in 1910 and during World War II, the region’s economy declined contributing to the low economic output of the region – only 2% of the Brazilian GDP – and poverty. Yet, economic growth has been high in recent years. Nearly 70% of the region’s inhabitants described themselves as ‘brown’. The region’s HDI, 0.764, gives it a HDI slightly lower than Jamaica (a developing country).

The Northeast Region, or Nordeste, is composed of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe. The Northeast, the first region discovered by the Portuguese, was the early economic and political heart of Brazil during the early Imperial era, where sugar cane plantations along the coast contributed most of the Empire’s exports. Partly to keep out Dutch and French invaders and to assert Portuguese control, the Portuguese crown gave huge parcels of empty land to a handful of colonists, giving the foundations for the latifúndios which have dominated the region’s political and socio-economic history since then. The interior of the region, composed of the vast arid sertão had/has a large impoverished, often illiterate, peasantry which floated around and rarely had year-round employment. Powerful landowners and sugarcane plantations were more common in the thin and greener coastal zone. Droughts were commonplace throughout the twentieth century in the sertão. Poverty forced many nordestinos to emigrate south to São Paulo to make a livelihood, migrating aboard trucks known as ‘pau-de-arara’. Lula’s family, native to Caetés (in the Pernambucan sertão), is likely the most famous of these emigrants (or inmigrants as they are known in Spain). Politically, family dynasties and clans, some of which are now allied with Lula, dominate politics though the power of some of these clans were weakened in 2006. Roughly 63% of the region’s population describe themselves as ‘brown’. The region’s economy has diversified to include light industry and manufacturing, and has experienced rapid growth in recent years, but the region, which accounts for 27% of the country’s population still accounts for only 12% of its GDP. The region’s HDI, 0.716, would place it between Equatorial Guinea and Uzbekistan at the mid-end of the developing countries range.

The Centre-West Region is composed of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and the Distrito Federal. The centre-west is the Brazilian outback and has experienced rapid economic growth only since the 1970s after being a sparsely populated outback prior to that time. The region’s population, roughly 11 million (6.4% of the country) settled during the military era and most work in big agrobusiness, which dominates this region, the least industrialized region of Brazil. Soybeans, beef and cattle herding are major crops in this region with big ranch-type settlements, but with little local population to ‘exploit’ as in the Northeast’s old latifúndios. Most of the region is composed of savanna-type vegetation, but deforestation in northern Mato Grosso to expand soy plantations is a major problem. The Pantanal wetlands along the Paraguayan border are located in this region, as is Brasília (pop. 2 million) with its large population of civil servants. Roughly 50% of the region’s population is brown, with 43% describing themselves as white. Despite the region’s low GDP – only 8% of the country’s total – the region’s o.818 HDI places it in the high category along with countries such as Russia, Albania or Macedonia.

The Southeast Region is composed of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. The Southeast, notably the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais have been at the heart of Brazil’s economy since the late Empire. São Paulo and Minas Gerais were the café com leite states during the Old Republic, an era where federalism allowed these states to take quasi-universal control over Brazilian exports (coffee) and politics as well as accumulate much wealth. Even when the coffee barons fell out of style after 1930, the region’s key location and high population allowed it to remain at the heart of the growth of Brazilian industry and white-collar business. São Paulo remains the business centre of Brazil, concentrating major white-collar businesses in its core and blue-collar industry in its suburbs, the ABCD region. Rio de Janeiro, while less economically vibrant and enjoying a more relaxed and liberal lifestyle, has a population of nearly 6.2 million and the valleys surrounding the city were the heart of the early growth of the country’s steel and iron industry during the Vargas era (most notably the Volta Redonda plant, located in the Rio outskirts). The vast state of Minas Gerais concentrates major mining and manufacturing industries along with traditional agriculture and cattle herding. São Paulo’s status as the economic heart or capital of Brazil has played a major role in attracting European immigrants, notably Italians and Germans, to the state in the 1900s to work first in the coffee plantations. São Paulo also concentrates some of South America’s largest Japanese and Lebanese communities. Furthermore, São Paulo was also the destination of choice for many internal migrants coming most often from the impoverished drought-stricken Northeast. The region’s population remains predominantly white, with 56.8% of the region’s inhabitants identifying as white and 34.4% as brown. With 38% of the country’s population (but only 10.9% of the land mass), the region holds a crushing 58.5% of the nation’s GDP and enjoys a high HDI of 0.817, equal to that of Russia. Certain communities in the region, however, have HDIs averaging that of Germany or Hong Kong.

The Southern Region is composed of Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina. The South, similar to São Paulo in many aspects, but vastly different in other aspects, is Brazil’s wealthiest region with a HDI of 0.831, slightly higher than Malaysia. Cattle herding and ranching used to be dominant economic activities in most of the region, most notably in the gaúcho state of Rio Grande do Sul which is more similar to Argentina’s pampas than São Paulo. Rio Grande do Sul, a strategic state located between Uruguay and Argentina, has also been known as a hotbed of radical activities, most notably republican positivist sentiments during the Imperial era and the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi participated in a republican revolt in the state during the Empire. Cattle herding has declined in importance with the growth of white-collar and blue-collar industries in the region, notably in the coastal region and in the cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre. Immigration, most notably from Italy and Germany, was especially important in this region and Plínio Salgado’s Integralists found widespread support with German and Italian Brazilians. The interior of the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina, however, remained relatively sparsely populated and poorly developed well into the 1950s. The region contributes 16.5% of the nation’s GDP, but it has the highest HDI in the country – and also the highest white population in the nation with a crushing 78.7% of the region’s inhabitants describing themselves as white. Of course, the link between race and wealth in Brazil remains very important though it is not a universal rule.

Los fisiológicos: Brazilian Parties

Brazil has contributed an excellent word to the political culture, one which is sadly underused. It is the word fisiológico, roughly translated into English as ‘physiological’. The word denotes political parties, or even politicians, who change their appearances and ideologies to fit in with the prevailing environment. The notion of fisiológico parties is important to understanding contemporary Brazilian politics and issues such as the mensalão scandal.

Since the days of the Empire, and unlike most of Hispanic America, Brazilian politics have rarely seen (exception of roughly 1950 till 1964) stark ideological confrontations and have never seen nationwide civil wars caused by ideological clashes. During the Imperial era, while Brazil, like the rest of Latin America, had a political system divided between Conservatives and Liberals, confrontation between these two parties were rare and gentlemanly when they happened. In stark contrast to the Liberal vs. Conservative battles in Colombia or Central America. The above-the-fray status of the Emperor likely contributed to this lack of ideological distinctions between both parties, but the culture of compromise or working it out is also rooted in the Brazilian-Portuguese culture and has subsisted since. The Old Republic saw compromises and deals between the states, Vargas was a master of intrigue and political alliances and willingness to compromise plays an important role in explaining his survival and his ability to switch so easily from being Hitler’s best friend in the region to FDR’s best friend in the region. Even the military regime, never a personalist or autocratic regime like Stroessner’s Paraguay or Pinochet’s Chile, was relatively tame and the military was not a monolithic bloc.

A democratic two-party system or even two-and-a-half party system will thus never take root in a society not used to stark ideological confrontation and partisan battles. “Working it out” (over coffee) is the dominant nature of Brazilian politics. This society of compromise both has its good sides, and its bad sides. The biggest bad side to this culture is the permanence of pork-barrel politics and graft. Parties and politicians see advantages in being close to the party in power because it allows them to enrich themselves – Brazilian politics are largely well-off – and bring pork back to their states. Furthermore, the electoral system based on states prevents direct accountability of politicians. The lack of geographic districts (or, some will say, the lack of FPTP) prevents officials being kept somewhat accountable.

One must thus understand that Wikipedia’s cute little ‘ideology’ boxes have no place in the context of Brazilian politics. Parties don’t bother having ideologies, and most parties have the ideology of opportunism and pork-barrel spending. Aside from having a fickle attitude to ideology, the membership of these parties have a fickle attitude towards party loyalty. Party switching and ideology switching is common place in Brazil since the Empire. After all, most of Vargas’ 1950 opponents were his allies in 1930 and some of Lula’s allies in 2010 were his staunchest opponents in 1989. That being said, some parties were founded and remain parties with an ideological founding, though these parties must work with the fisiológicos to win and stay in power.

Holding 90 seats in the Chamber and 8 gubernatorial mansions, the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) is Brazil’s largest party. The successor party of the MDB, which was the ‘official opposition party’ during the military regime and largely a middle-class intellectual liberal party with ideals and clear aims, the PMDB lost these ideals and aims when it won power in 1985. Sarney’s presidency transformed the PMDB into an alliance of regional leaders and political clans with the common ideology of opportunism and the party thus lacks a real ideological founding. The PMDB is thus a collection of regional fiefdoms who sometimes have warring interests and opinions. While the PMDB’s few presidential candidates have never won over 5% of the vote, the support of the PMDB remains crucial to any government and it can make-or-break a government. The majority of the PMDB currently sees advantages in being allied with the government, giving it access to pork and power. This majority includes Sarney, incumbent President of the Senate, Michel Temer, President of the Chamber and the PMDB’s cabinet ministers.

The Workers’ Party (PT) remains the party most well known to foreign observers, being Lula’s party. However, contrary to popular belief, the PT, founded in 1980, was not founded with close links to any trade union (though Lula’s union, CUT, was close to it) unlike other Labour Parties but was rather a big-tent coalition of grassroots trade unionists, progressive Catholics, Trotskysts, intellectuals and Marxists. It was different from Vargas and Jango’s PTB in that it sought an independent structure of unions, free from the Vargas-era corporatism and the close alliance between the state and unions. It was different from the PCB in that it had wider appeal to workers (in large part because it was not atheist like the PCB). The party’s base was the ABC industrial belt around São Paulo, notably Lula’s historical base of São Bernardo do Campo but also in the Amazonian state of Acre where the rubber-tapper Chico Mendes was a major founding figure. Though it has shifted to the centre since the early radical socialist days of 1985-1989, the PT remains one of Brazil’s few ideologically-oriented and consistent parties. The internal majority has, for a long time, been led by the moderate Campo Majoritário while the PT’s left is divided and weak.

With 59 deputies and 6 Governors, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) is the largest opposition party, and, with the PT, considered to be one of the two ‘presidential’ parties (parties providing the President because they have some ideological founding and consistency). The PSDB was founded in 1988 by the PMDB’s liberal middle-class progressive elements who felt that the PMDB had become too much of an oligarchic party. The party’s founders included Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent sociologist; José Serra, a former student leader; and Mário Covas. Though the PSDB endorsed Lula in the 1989 runoff, the party’s “bourgeois rebel” base moved to the right over time and became similar to Britain’s “New Labour”. The PSDB differs from the PT on issues such as privatization, state intervention and foreign policy, though the PSDB has accepted to maintain the PT’s successful social programs if elected. The party’s base is São Paulo, making it even more of a paulista party than the PT is. The party’s logo is a colourful toucan, thus PSDB members are commonly referred to as tucanos.

Known as the Liberal Front Party or PFL until 2007, the Democrats (DEM) is Brazil’s second largest opposition party holding 56 seats in the Chamber. Founded as the PFL in 1985 by the more liberal and democratic supporters of the military regime (then represented by the PDS party, successor to the ARENA), the PFL’s main leaders, sensing the imminent collapse of the regime, felt it better to ally with the PMDB and the reformers. The PFL was primarily a nordestino party, and was thus closely connected with the region’s conservative pork-barrel dominated oligarchic politics. In Bahia, the party was led by Antônio Carlos Magalhães (ACM), a major power-broker and local baron. Knowing that the PSDB’s base in the Northeast was weak, Cardoso allied with the PFL and his Vice President was Marco Maciel. Though relations between the PFL and PSDB have sometimes been strained, the PFL has provided the running mate of each PSDB presidential nominee since 1994. With the Lula landslide in the Northeast in 2006, the party fell from 6 gubernatorial mansions (most of them in the Northeast) to only one in 2006 (in the person of Arruda in the DF, Arruda is now in jail). Sensing that it was falling out of style, the PFL rebranded itself in 2007 as the Democrats (DEM), and attempted to abandon the old clientelist image for a new liberal image. Arruda’s corruption scandal in the DF and the party’s (eroding) bases in the Northeast work very much against that liberal trend which the party desperately seeks.

Almost all the other parties with some presence nationally are fisiológicos. The largest of them, with 40 deputies but only 1 Senator is the Progressive Party (PP), which, despite the name, is supposed to be very conservative. The PP, the latest name tag for a series of parties with other tin-pot names, is considered the descendant of the conservative pro-military PDS. The PP’s major figure is Paulo Maluf, previously mentioned, who was re-elected federal deputy in 2006 with the largest vote share of any candidate in the country despite being a crook. Maluf is notably wanted in the United States for money laundering in Jersey and was convicted in Brazil for corruption and stealing money while mayor of São Paulo between 1993 and 1996. Maluf had also previously served as a “bionic” Governor and mayor of São Paulo during the military years, that is a governor who was appointed by the regime. The PP is currently a more-or-less reliable ally of the Lula government and a number of its members were involved in the mensalão.

Another nominally right-wing outfit is the Republic Party (PR), founded in 2006 as a result of an alliance between the Liberal Party and the far-right populist Party of the Reconstruction of the National Order (PRONA), a party led by the late populist Enéas Carneiro. The party was originally created to overcome a new electoral law (passed in 1997, but which was supposed to come into effect for 2006) which would have imposed a 5% threshold. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court on the basis of so-called ‘minority rights’. However, a number of parties in 2006 had previously worked on the assumption that it was a fait accompli, so a number of partidos nanicos merged and later de-merged following the court’s decision. Only the PR’s creation was finalized. It remains a conservative party, similar to PP in terms of style and interests. It is allied with Lula. The ‘soy king’ and former Governor (running for Senator) of Mato Grosso, Blairio Maggi joined the PR after breaking with the PPS in 2006. It is not to be confused with the tiny Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), of which Vice President José Alencar is a member of.

Leonel Brizola’s old Democratic Labour Party (PDT) holds only 23 seats in the chamber nowadays, but remains a relatively important party. The PDT was one the many parties founded in 1979-1981 with the liberalization of registration laws. The party was founded by the veteran politician Leonel Brizola, who lost a symbolic battle over the PTB (Vargas’ party) name to Ivete Vargas, Vargas’ grand-niece. Brizola was elected Governor of Rio in 1982, and won 17% in the 1989 presidential race, a close third behind Lula. Brizola, despite his Riograndense and Rio base, lacked the PT’s paulista and unionist support base. 1989 was a major make-or-break point for the PDT, and later attempts by the PDT to seize control of the new left failed with Brizola’s refusal to enter federal politics (running for Senate) and his failed second term as Governor in Rio, a term marred by inefficiency and some corruption. In the 1994 race, Brizola won only 3.2% of the vote and the PDT’s support fell during the decade to around 4-6%. The PDT broke with Lula after having supported him in 2002 by 2003 or so, and Brizola died in 2004. The party’s rhetoric shifted left over that time, and welcomed former members of the PT disillusioned by the Lula government, including former education minister Cristovam Buarque, who won around 2% as the PDT’s candidate in 2006. The party currently supports Lula and has not seen its electoral fortunes brighten up much.

The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) was one of the PT’s first allies, and remains close to the party to this day. Founded in 1985 taking the name of a small anti-Vargas left-wing party during the 1945-1964 era, the PSB’s dominant figure was Miguel Arraes, first elected Governor of Pernambuco in 1962 (the first victory of the left in the Northeast) and a major leftist figure, along with Brizola, in the March 1964 crisis. Arraes joined the PSB, leaving the PMDB, in 1990, and was elected Governor of Pernambuco in 1994 (though he was defeated following a financial crisis in 1998 amidst Cardoso’s re-election). Anthony Garotinho, the populist crack-pot former governor of Rio, briefly joined the PSB after leaving the PDT and stood as the party’s candidate in 2002. Later, Ciro Gomes, a Lula cabinet minister, and his brother Cid, joined the PSB after falling out with their previous party. Strong in the Northeast, where it holds four governorships, including that of Pernambuco in the person of Eduardo Campos, Arraes’ grandson; the party remains a close ally of Lula.

Vargas’ old Brazilian Labour Party (PTB) still exists, but is far from Vargas’ urban labour-nationalist party of the 1950s. Ivete Vargas won the right to the party’s name and re-created the PTB, which continues to invoke Vargas’ legacy but is in reality a ‘physiological’ pork party, having supported all governments since 1983. Roberto Jefferson, a tragicomic clownish character and ‘whisteblower’ of the mensalão in 2005, remains the party’s leader though he is banned from elected office until 2015 following his 2005 expulsion from the Chamber. Former President Fernando Collor de Mello is a member of the PTB (and thus, ironically, an ally of Lula) and is senator from Alagoas since 2006. The PTB was, with the defunct Liberals, one of the biggest contributors of the mensalão.

The Popular Socialist Party (PPS) is a bizarre little outfit. Founded in 1992 by the ‘eurocommunist’ majority faction of the old Communist Party (PCB) and led by Roberto Freire, the PPS was originally supposed to be a Brazilian version of Italy’s post-communist PDS. It did originally keep to its left-wing roots and supported the PT in 1994 or so, and was a supporter of Lula’s government until 2004 or so. Then, for some reason, possibly bad relations with the PCdoB, it left the majority and joined the PSDB-PFL opposition and supported Alckmin in 2006. The PPS, which, despite claims that it is left-wing, has become a crypto-rightist joke.

The Brazilian Green Party (PV), founded in 1985, is one of Latin America’s most important green parties, and, unlike the Mexican PVEM, isn’t a corrupt pork machine. The PV gained parliamentary representation in 2002 and originally allied with Lula before breaking with the government over its environmental policies, and a prominent founder of the PT, Fernando Gabeira (who kidnapped an American ambassador during the military years) joined the PV after falling out with the PT during the mensalão, when the Greens and Gabeira were some of the toughest and most honest whistleblowers. Marina Silva, a PT Senator for Acre and former environment minister, was also a late convert to the PV, joining only in 2009. Gilberto Gil, the singer, is also a member of the party (though closer to Lula than to the PV) as is José Sarney Filho (Sarney’s son, a federal deputy). The party has some internal divisions on the question of alliances, with members such as Sarney Filho and Gilberto Gil being close allies of the government while others like Gabeira are entirely in the opposition PSDB-led coalition (Gabeira was the de-facto opposition candidate for mayor of Rio in 2008).

The Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), founded in 1962 as a Maoist splitoff of the pro-Moscow PCB, is one of the PT’s closest allies and has been aligned with Lula since the beginning. The PCdoB was largely a student and intellectual movement with next to zero links with trade unions, but it was a major leader of the armed resistance to the military (the Araguaia guerrilla movement). It broke with China in 1976 and sided with Albania, taking a Hoxhaist line, though the current PCdoB isn’t crazy. Aldo Rebelo, a member of the PCdoB was President of the Chamber between 2005 and 2007. The old Communist Party (PCB) still exists, after the orthodox minority including Oscar Niemeyer refused to follow Freire into the PPS and remains a fringe far-left party outside of the political world.

The Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), also known as the Socialism and Liberation Party, was founded in 2004 following the expulsion of several left-wing petistas from the PT, most notably Alagoas senator Heloísa Helena. The PSOL grew as some of the PT’s old left-wing intellectuals, such as Plinio de Arruda Sampaio, fell out with Lula during the 2005 scandals and contributed to Heloísa Helena’s 7% showing in 2006. One of the only very ideologically-oriented parties, the PSOL won support in 2006 from foreign intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek but the party itself is outside of the main political arena and has no allies aside from the hard-left sectarian PCB or PSTU.

Party loyalty is almost inexistent in Brazil, so these parties don’t really mean anything and the electoral system where individual candidates matter more make the Brazilian parties, especially the smaller ones, totally irrelevant to actual politics. In fact, only the four major parties and some smaller parties (PV, PSB) are actually relevant to understanding Brazil. The makeup of the Chamber and Senate as of today is as follows:

PMDB 90 / 17
PT 79 / 9
PSDB 59 / 16
DEM 56 / 13
PP 41 / 1
PR 40 / 4
PSB 27 / 2
PDT 23 / 6
PTB 22 / 7
Social Christian Party (PSC) 16 / 1
PPS 15 / 0
Greens 14 / 1
PCdoB 12 / 1
PRB 7 / 2
Others (PMN, PSOL, PHS, PTC PTdoB) 12 / 1 (PSOL)

Looking to 2010

Note: Brazilian electoral law prevents incumbent office-holders (except parliamentarians) from running for an office they do not hold. Therefore, a candidate for President who holds a cabinet position or is Governor must resign said office in March to be a legal candidate for office in October. Brazilian electoral law also prevents independents or persons not affiliated with any political party from running for elected office.


Back in 2007, Richard Bourne in his biography of Lula had noted that the PT lacked a major contender to succeed Lula in 2010. While the PT isn’t a personalist party, Lula has been, since 1981, the figure par excellence of the PT and the party’s leadership knew that even though he had suffered important defeats in 1994 and 1998, the PT was still better off with Lula as its candidate than anybody else. Many of the PT’s leaders, be they Senators or deputies, often lacked presidential stature or the talent necessary to be a winning contender. It came as a surprise to most observers when the PT and Lula indicated that the party’s pre-candidate for 2010 would be Dilma Rousseff, who had served as Lula’s Chief of Staff since Dirceu’s resignation in 2005. While the position of Chief of Staff, or head of the Casa Civil, is an important political position, Dilma was not especially well-known to the public in this position.

Lula and his candidate

Rousseff was born in 1947 in a middle-class family to a Bulgarian father and Brazilian mother. Unlike Lula or other major PT leaders, she has no trade union experience but was a middle-class Marxist guerrilla fighter who was noted notably for a 1969 raid on the house (and safe) of former São Paulo governor Adhemar de Barros. Arrested in 1970, tortured by DOPS and later released in 1972, she joined, with her second husband, Brizola’s PDT in Rio Grande do Sul though she never ran for elected office herself. She served as municipal treasury secretary in a PDT administration in Porto Alegre and most notably as state energy secretary in the government of Olívio Dutra (PT). Her tough and competent administration in the state’s energy ministry allowed the Southern Region to escape the 1999 electricity blackout in the rest of Brazil. She only joined the PT in 2000 after she had fallen out with the PDT over a coalition dispute at the local level in 2000. Dilma had been a member of the PDT’s left-wing and not the traditional populist wing. Dilma was nominated, to much surprise, to be Lula’s energy minister in 2003, an office she held until 2005. In the energy ministry, she became known for her strong attitude but also her hard work and competence. However, Dilma’s tough attitude and tough mood did lead her to fight with deputies and notably Marina Silva, then environment minister who opposed the energy ministry’s plans to build new infrastructure in ecologically sensible areas. A close ally of José Dirceu, she took Dirceu’s job as Chief of Staff in June 2005, in the midst of the mensalão scandal. Lula likely appreciated her ability to navigate through tough situations and her attitude, and she indeed saved Lula from impeachment or resignation during the 2005 crisis. Lula and the PT nominated her to be the party’s candidate, a nomination made official in June 2010. Lula likely appreciates her workaholic nature, her style and tough determination. Her ‘newbie’ status in the PT does not hinder her much, as she is seen by the leadership to be above the factions and the rivalries between the PT’s old players. However, Dilma does lack Lula’s stature, personal likability and charisma (she’s totally uncharismatic) but her platform of praising Lula for everything and continuing what he’s done is a game winner in Brazil. In her speeches, she has largely laid the emphasis on Lula’s record in power; and she has been at Lula’s side since 2008 when he inaugurated new infrastructure projects pushed forward by the government infrastructure development program, the PAC. The PAC is also a nice tool used by the government in an election year, because fixing potholes and building new things in the country work well with voters who still like getting pork on their side.

Dilma’s candidacy is supported by the PT’s traditional allies on the left, the crypto-rightist PR and PRB but also, officially, by the PMDB, which had not officially supported Lula in 2006. The PMDB has likely appreciated Lula’s close defense of embattled Senate President José Sarney who was involved, in 2009, in yet another political patronage and corruption scandal in the Sarney clique’s home state of Maranhão (which is partly owned by the family). Furthermore, Dilma’s running mate is Michel Temer (age 69), the PMDB President of the Chamber. Although involved in a few murky corrupt dealings, Temer is not very corrupt as far as Presidents of the Chamber go.

José Serra (age 67), elected Governor of São Paulo in 2006, must have regretted not running in 2006. If Alckmin, less charismatic than a wet pizza, could give Lula a run for his money, Serra could have done quite a bit better. It was thus no surprise that Serra was the PSDB’s top contender for the 2010 race. He is well-known, a competent and relatively honest administrator and his years with Cardoso are more distant than they were in 2002. The PSDB’s other main contender was Aécio Neves, Governor of Minas Gerais since 2003 and Tancredo Neves’ grandson. Under his administration, Minas Gerais’ massive deficit and archaic state structure (left behind by Itamar Franco) was cleaned up and government size curtailed to be made more efficient. While Aécio (age 50) was the most popular Governor in Brazil, he had low name recognition outside his home state and was perhaps hesitant to use his political capital on an uncertain presidential race. Aécio declined to run as Serra’s running-mate (the PSDB and DEM’s dream team would have been Serra-Aécio), unsurprisingly, and instead jumped into the race for Senate.

If Serra loses, he can't shoot his opponents...

Serra was also a middle-class rebel in his youth, being a leader of the radical UNE student union and a member of the then-illegal PCB. However, unlike Dilma who became a guerrilla, this engineering student moved to exile in 1964, living in Chile, Argentina and the US. Finishing his studies in economics in Chile and the US, Serra became a close friend of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who also spent time in Chile during the military regime’s harshest days. Serra returned to Brazil in 1978 with the amnesty and became active in the civilian anti-dictatorship popular movements, and served in the cabinet of São Paulo Governor Franco Montoro (MDB). He served as a federal deputy, a Senator and lost two races for the mayoralty of São Paulo before becoming health minister in Cardoso’s cabinet. As health minister, Serra was generally successful, presiding over the growth of the generic drug industry and leading the fight against American pharmaceuticals in order to provide cheap drugs to HIV/AIDS patients. However, Serra, Cardoso’s preferred successor, lost the 2002 election to Lula but was elected mayor of São Paulo in 2004 after defeating PT incumbent Marta Suplicy. A potential PSDB candidate in 2006, he preferred to run for governor, a race which he easily won. He has been a relatively clean and competent governor, with high approval ratings.

Serra’s candidacy is supported by the traditional right (PSDB, DEM, PPS) but also the PTB and the smaller PSC. Serra picked a relative youngster (age 40) and little-known Democrat federal deputy from Rio, Indio da Costa. Indio da Costa has had some murky corruption affairs and is the former son-in-law of a jailed banker, and is considered to be former Rio mayor César Maia’s political dauphin. Indio da Costa has served as federal deputy only since 2007 and was a campaign strategist before that (notably in the United States).

Marina Silva and her ex-boss

The third main contender is Marina Silva (age 51). Born to a family of rubber tappers in Acre, she was a founding member of the PT in state of Acre, where the local PT was led at the outset by famous rubber tapper Chico Mendes. She enjoyed a rapid rise, becoming the youngest Brazilian federal Senator in 1994 and became environment minister in 2003, an office she held until her resignation in 2008. As environment minister, she fought with Dilma as well as other PT leaders and big agrobusiness government allies (such as Blairo Maggi) over the government’s environmental policy and the sustainability of the government’s agricultural and industrial policies. Growingly isolated within the PT for her opposition to hydroelectric dams, biofuels and GMOs, she left the party in 2009 to join the Green Party and was immediately considered a top contender for the PV.

Supported only by the PV, her running mate is Guilherme Leal, a shareholder in the Brazilian cosmetic company Natura and also a wealthy businessman featured in Forbes’ list of the world’s 1000 wealthiest people. Natura is known for its sustainable approach.

Ciro Gomes, a presidential candidate in 1998 and 2002, member of the PSB and Minister for National Integration between 2003 and 2006 and federal deputy since then, was a top presidential contender who in the end didn’t run. While generally competent as governor of Ceará between 1991 and 1994, Ciro has been a bit of a maverick figure on the left known for controversial comments (most notably, he made sexist remarks in 2002) and a bad temper. He has the reputation of playing outside the PT-PSB’s formal game despite him being a member of the staunchly pro-government PSB. In the end, as his poll numbers dwindled, the PSB decided not to endorse him as a candidate and he dropped out. The PSB now supports Dilma’s bid.

The PSOL’s 2006 candidate, Heloísa Helena had her name thrown around as a potential candidate but in the end she decided to try to win back her hold senate seat in Alagoas instead. The PSOL, which has lost its thunder given Lula’s widespread popularity and the lack of any major PT-led corruption dealings, nominated Plínio de Arruda Sampaio, an old leftie intellectual, instead. Though most voters like the crazy old man Plínio and he performed well in debates, he has been seemingly unable to seize on underlying discontent with the PT from a left-wing fringe. Lula’s popularity and the absence of corruption as a major boon for the opposition has likely prevented that.

The PSOL has lost the support of its fringe sectarian far-left partners, with the Trot PSTU nominating José Maria de Almeida, the PCB nominating Ivan Pinheiro and the PCO nominating Rui Costa Pimenta. The Christian Social Democratic Party (PSDC), a tiny fringe party, nominated its 2006 candidate José Maria Eymael while the PRTB, a fringe non-ideological party irrelevant since Collor left it in 2006, nominated Levy Fidelix.

Brazilian electoral law gives each candidate free air time based on the relevance (measured in parliamentary representation in the Chamber) of their party or coalition. Lula had less time than Alckmin in 2006, but with the PMDB on her side, Dilma has 10 minutes 39 seconds against 7 minutes 12 seconds for Serra and only 1 minute 25 seconds for Marina Silva.

The ideological differences between Serra and Dilma are sparse. A Serra government would maintain Lula’s popular social policies, while Dilma’s government would continue the Cardoso-Lula economic policies. Both candidates would likely favour keeping a budgetary surplus and some reforms to the country’s economic structure. However, Serra is more likely to cut spending than Dilma and his tenure as governor shows that he is more likely to privatize than Dilma (Lula’s government stopped the Cardoso-era privatizations). Dilma’s time as energy minister has shown that she supports a more interventionist role for the state in the economy and a less prominent role for private firms in banking, oil and gas. The main differences come on foreign policy, where Dilma is likely to continue Lula’s independent foreign policy and active lobbying for a permanent Security Council seat for the country. Serra, however, would likely cool ties with other left-wing countries in the continent and drop Lula’s on-and-off friendship with Chávez. Brazil’s policy with Iran and the Middle East, independent of the US line, would likely go if Serra won. If Serra wins, it would thus be a major victory for the US State Department, who, despite maintaining warm ties with Lula’s Brazil, secretly resents Brazil’s new foreign policy line adopted under Lula.

Polls show that 30% of voters or so would vote for Lula’s candidate no matter what, and another 30% or so would be likely to vote for the candidate endorsed by Lula. Thus, as Lula’s mention of Dilma increases and her name gets out to voters more, her poll ratings have been constantly going up. Early polling is obviously a name recognition thing, so it isn’t surprising that the first poll in March 2008 had Serra at 38% and Dilma at 3% – while Ciro Gomes was at 20% and Helena at 14%. Dilma took second in May 2009, and from 16% in May 2009 she has climbed to 38-40% today. The main victim, obviously, hasn’t been Serra – he never benefited from early crossover appeal from the left even in 2008 – but rather Ciro Gomes whose poll ratings fell from 15-17% to 8-9% when he dropped out in May. Marina Silva hasn’t suffered from “Dilma’s dash” but didn’t gain much from Ciro Gomes dropping out either. Ciro Gomes’ likely voters went to Dilma, with whom Mr. Hot Temper has no bad beef with (he hates Serra).

On paper, there was a large turnaround in voting intentions between November and this summer, which gives the impression that something in the race has fundamentally change. The truth is that nothing has changed since Dilma got into the race. It is hard to conceive how the candidate with the backing of the most popular president in Brazilian history (slight exaggeration, but that’s what polls say) could have lost this election barring a major scandal or a dead baby in a closet. Comparisons will likely be drawn to Colombia, where a vastly popular incumbent was barred from running for re-election and his chosen successor (as the media claimed) faced a tough challenge from an insurgent candidate running outside the president’s majority. The difference between Colombia’s case and Brazil’s case are vast. Lula is slightly more popular than Uribe was, but Lula’s second term did not face accusations of corruption or any kind of paramilitary scandal like Uribe did, preventing an opponent from running on the always potent issue of corruption rather than the incumbent’s record. Secondly, Lula’s majority is more or less united at the federal level ahead of the election. Uribe’s majority was divided and Santos wasn’t Uribe’s favourite candidate of all the candidates running as Uribists. In Brazil, although Lula’s majority, like Uribe’s majority, is made of a number of parties, the PMDB had no real interest in running a candidate of its own. Thirdly, Antanas Mockus came close to giving Santos a run for his money because Mockus was an outsider and not a traditional old-style opponent. Fairly charismatic and extremely flamboyant, Mockus did not run as an avowed opponent of the incumbent. In Brazil, Serra lacks the charisma and style that Mockus had, and furthermore he is not an outsider. He’s a former Cardoso cabinet minister, a governor, a former mayor and a well-known old politico. Quite unlike Mockus. The only person in the PSDB who could have been able to successfully run as an outsider and conduct an intelligent campaign on issues not touching on the incumbent’s record was Aécio Neves.

Helped by a popular incumbent, a very strong economy and a weak opposition; Dilma has seen her voting intentions rise constantly throughout the summer. She quickly outpaced Serra and now commands a massive lead of 20+ points over Serra and her election is likely to be sealed by the night of the first round. Even with undecideds, she commands 50-52% of voting intentions. Some will note than in the summer of 2006, Lula was looking equally as good as Dilma was. Furthermore, he was up against an opponent equally as bad in campaigns as Serra. However, Lula’s refusal to participate in debates (and Alckmin’s smart spin on that) as well a late scandal led to a late boost for Alckmin. Given the lack of corruption and Lula’s higher popularity this year, as well as Serra’s poor campaign, a repeat of that seems unlikely. Alckmin also got a boost when free electoral ads aired on TV, which allowed Alckmin to get his name out there. The same thing hasn’t happened with Serra, and, arguably, the opposite has happened since free electoral ads started airing. Furthermore, the remaining voters who are still uneasy with Dilma but aren’t convinced by Serra’s campaign have a third centrist option, Marina Silva, who can appeal to the remaining undecideds and still manage to do well in October even though some might think that her centrist votes may be squeezed.

Given that even her first round victory seems assured, the only question is whether or not she’ll manage what no other Brazilian presidential candidates has managed: winning all the states. Even in São Paulo, Serra’s homebase where he is popular, she is ahead by around 5-7 points. Her toughest states right now appear to be Acre, where she trails Serra but largely due to Marina Silva’s strong showing (20-25%) in her home state; and the wealthy white southern states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso do Sul where her lead is statistically insignificant. Obviously, she dominates in Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, and the Nordeste is her most solid region, where she polls over 60% in almost all states and is over or near to 70% in certain states such as Pernambuco and Maranhão.

The mere fact that she could be on track to win all the states means that Dilma has a wide appeal, similar, in some ways, to Lula’s “peace and love” 2002 appeal. The strong economy, which has helped the middle-classes which abandoned Lula in 2006, has likely played a role in giving Dilma a wider appeal than Lula had in 2006. While Brazil’s wealthiest are still the least likely of all to vote for Dilma, they are more likely to vote for her than they were to vote for Lula in 2006.

The fact that Brazilians are people who tend to go with the flow (like their politicians) means that such wild swings in polling and predictable landslide electoral victories are rather common in Brazil. In fact, with the arguable exception of 2006, no presidential election in Brazil since 1994 has been particularly close and, except 2006, none featured a particularly interesting campaign.


All gubernatorial mansions will be up for re-election in October as well, and a number of incumbent governors find themselves term-limited or running for another office. Not all races are covered on this page as of yet, but the main races of importance are covered here. Aécio Neves (Minas Gerais), Blairo Maggi (Mato Grosso), Eduardo Braga (Amazonas), Ivo Cassol (Rondônia), Luiz Henrique da Silveira (Santa Catarina), Marcelo Miranda (Tocantins), Paulo Hartung (Espírito Santo), Roberto Requião (Paraná), Waldez Góes (Amapá), Wilma de Faria (Rio Grande do Norte) and Wellington Dias (Piauí) are not eligible for re-election. Of these names, all but one (Hartung) have already resigned in order to run for Senate.

Overall, thanks to a strong economic situation, most incumbents or incumbent state government are likely to win re-election. Only in certain states such as Rio Grande do Sul, Pará and Rio Grande do Norte where the incumbents are unpopular is the current opposition to the state government leading. Furthermore, while coattails are hard to discern in a multi-party coalition system such as Brazil’s, Dilma will likely benefit from the support of a majority of governors. Candidates supporting Dilma are leading in a majority of states.

For a list of all candidates in all states, the TSE’s candidate registry is your best bet. Candidates whose candidacy is confirmed by the courts are under ‘aptos’, those whose candidacies have been denied by the courts are under ‘inaptos’. ‘Todos’ includes both apt and inapt candidates as well as those whose candidacies are still being ‘processed’.

Below is a list of the major states and the interesting races. The latest polling numbers are included as well, with ‘gov’ indicating the candidate of the governing majority and ‘inc’ indicating an incumbent.

Acre‘s PT Governor Binho Marques is retiring after one term in office. In one of the PT’s earliest bases, PT Senator Tião Viana is the runaway favourite in this race against the little-known PSDB contender Tião Bocalom and the PRTB’s Gouveia Tijolinho.

Last poll: Ibope, Aug. 30:
Tião Viana (PT-gov) 58%
Tião Bocalom (PSDB) 25%
Gouveia Tijolinho (PRTB) 1%
undecided/blank 16%

Alagoas will be one of the most interesting races to watch, with a perfect three-way contest. PSDB incumbent Teo Vilela is in a tough race for re-election in a contest which features a fight between two well-known rivals and longtime local politicos: on one hand, Senator, former Governor and former President Fernando Collor de Mello (PTB) and former Governor Ronaldo Lessa (PDT), endorsed by the PT and PMDB, on the other. In this race, all three candidates, including Vilela, are playing on their ties with Lula and Dilma as an effort to boost their chances.

Last poll: Ibope, Oct. 2:
Teo Vilela (PSDB-inc) 34%
Fernando Collor (PTB) 31%
Ronaldo Lessa (PDT) 24%
others 2%
undecided/blank 9%

Amapá, a sparsely populated isolated Amazonian state, has been colonized by José Sarney since the former territory became a state in 1988, transforming the state into a personal fiefdom of sorts for the President of the Senate, who controls politics in the state. The incumbent governor, Pedro Paulo Dias (PP) has been thrown in jail for corruption. Unfortunately, his opponents are not honest boys either. Lucas Barreto (PTB), who leads in polls, is friendly with Sarney who got him a job in the Senate through ‘secret acts’. In second place, the PSDB’s Jorge Amanajás is linked to the corruption scheme. Only the third placed candidate, the PSB’s Camilo Capiberibe are not friends with Sarney, because his father and mother lost their mandates thanks to a vote-buying scheme in which the state’s pro-Sarney judiciary convicted them of.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 12:
Lucas Barreto (PTB) 34%
Jorge Amanajás (PSDB) 23%
Camilo Capiberibe (PSB) 17%
Pedro Paulo (PP) 10%
Genival Cruz (PSTU) 1%
undecided/blank 13%

Amazonas’ governor is Omar Aziz (PMN), the Vice Governor who took over from Eduardo Braga (PMDB) in March. Now, Omar Aziz, supported by a wide-reaching coalition including the Democrats and the PMDB, would like a term in his own right. Voting intentions in his favour have skyrocketed since he took office in March. He faces opposition from his former boss when he was deputy mayor of Manaus, Alfredo Nascimento (PR), incumbent Senator and former transportation minister. Nascimento is supported by the PT, while the PSDB and the Greens are behind Hissa Abrahão of the PPS.

Last poll: Perspectiva, Sept. 22
Omar Aziz (PMN-inc) 54%
Alfredo Nascimento (PR) 33%
Hissa Abrahão (PPS) 3%
Luiz Navarro (PCB) 1%
undecided/blank 9%

In Bahia, incumbent PT Governor Jaques Wagner, who surprisingly defeated PFL incumbent Paulo Souto in a shocking election in 2006, is running for re-election. However, with the PFL’s old local baron ACM dead and Wagner very popular, he is the favourite against Paulo Souto, who is vying to get his old job back. The PT has also won the support of some of ACM’s old allies (the PP), basically those who were allied to the PFL when it was in power and who are now on the PT’s side since they are in power. The PMDB’s support had been crucial for the PT in 2006, but the two broke over the 2008 municipal elections and the PMDB is now going independently of the PT with Geddel Vieira, a former cabinet minister who is running alongside the incumbent Vice Governor. Wagner is the favourite in this race, eying an increasingly likely first-round win (which would be quite a feat given that he lacks the PMDB’s support).

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 27:
Jaques Wagners (PT-inc) 50%
Paulo Souto (DEM) 19%
Geddel Vieira (PMDB) 15%
others 4%
undecided/blank 12%

In Ceará, incumbent PSB Governor Cid Gomes shouldn’t face much trouble against former Governor Lúcio Alcântara (PR/PPS) and PSDB sociologist Marcos Cals. Vastly popular, Cid Gomes should hold on to his seat by the first round. His only major high-profile opponent, PSDB Senator Tasso Jereissati is not running, preferring to run for quasi-certain reelection to the Senate.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 24:
Cid Gomes (PSB-inc) 52%
Lúcio Alcântara (PR) 20%
Marcos Cals (PSDB) 10%
others 3%
undecided/blank 15%

Espírito Santo Governor Paulo Hartung (PMDB) is term-limited. The early favourite to succeed him is PSB Senator Renato Casagrande, supported by the PT and the PMDB, whose major opponent is little-known PSDB federal deputy Luiz Paulo. Polls indicate that Casagrande is on the way to crushing the PSDB’s candidate by the first round.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 9:
Renato Casagrande (PSB-gov) 61%
Luiz Paulo (PSDB) 12%
2 others 1%
undecided/blank 25%

In the Federal District, the governor elected in 2006 – José Roberto Arruda (DEM) was arrested while in office last year following a massive corruption scandal (known as the mensalão do DEM). He is ineligible to run, and the interim PMDB Governor Rogério Rosso (elected by the Assembly, after the Vice Governor also got in trouble) is also not running. The race was supposed to be practically a two-way contest between former Governor Joaquim Roriz (who is a crook), a member of the small PSC supported notably by the PSDB and the Democrats on one hand and PT candidate Agnelo Queiroz, a former sport minister, on the other. Roriz, who was more likely than not see his candidacy disallowed on basis of past corruption, which has allowed his wife, Weslian, to take his spot instead. In polls, however, Roriz is now at a disadvantage against Queiroz, who seems to be gathering strength as voters are uneasy with the idea of electing their second consecutive crook.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Agnelo Queiroz (PT) 43%
Joaquim or Weslian Roriz (PSC) 29%
Toninho (PSOL) 7%
Eduardo Brandão (PV) 2%
2 others 3%
undecided/blank 18%

Goiás Governor Alcides Rodrigues (PP) is retiring after one term, with his PSDB predecessor in the gubernatorial mansion Marconi Perillo, now a Senator, being the favourite to succeed him. Alcides Rodrigues’ had been Perillo’s Vice Governor and had been elected with Perillo’s support in 2006, but Perillo fancies a return to the gubernatorial mansion and likely a repeat of his successful 1999-2006 tenure. He faces another big name in Goianian politics, the PMDB’s Iris Rezende – supported by the PT –  a former Governor (1983-1986, 1991-1994) and former mayor of Goiânia. Vanderlan Cardoso (PR), the candidate supported by Alcides Rodrigues (who broke with Perillo), hovers far behind. Polls give Perillo a consistent and comfortable lead over Rezende. However, if Vanderlan Cardoso supports Iris Rezende in the runoff, a PSDB pickup isn’t a certainty any longer.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Marconi Perillo (PSDB) 43%
Iris Rezende (PMDB) 33%
Vanderlan Cardoso (PR-gov) 12%
undecided/blank 12%

In Maranhão, the Sarney clique’s state, the Sarney machine took a big hit in 2006 when the PDT’s Jackson Lago defeated Sarney’s daughter Roseana. However, in 2009, the electoral courts annulled all votes cast for Lago after the courts confirmed vote buying by Lago in 2006; and thus Roseana was deemed elected. A member of the PFL until 2006, she joined her father’s PMDB after the PFL expelled her for endorsing Lula. She is running for re-election, but faces Lago again. The PT was divided, but the need for the PMDB saw Roseana carry the day over the PCdoB deputy Flávio Dino, supported by the PPS and PSB. Lago has the PSDB’s support. Roseana will win easily this time.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 19:
Roseana Sarney (PMDB-inc) 46%
Jackson Lago (PDT) 21%
Flávio Dino (PCdoB) 21%
1 others 1%
undecided/blank 11%

Mato Grosso Governor Blairo Maggi is term-limited and is off to the Senate in October, leaving the field wide open. The candidate closest to Maggi, an extremely wealthy local monarch allied with Lula, is the PMDB’s Silval Barbosa (incumbent Governor in replacement of Maggi) who is ahead of the PSDB’s Wilson Santos, his main rival running on a slate invoking the memory of the late DEM Senator Jonas Pinheiro, who died in 2008. The PSB’s Mauro Mendes, who trails in third, heads a left-wing coalition including the PDT and PPS which is supported by supporters of incumbent PT Senator Serys Slhessarenko, who was defeated in a PT primary by Carlos Abicalil, who is second on Blairo Maggi’s slate in the Senate ballot.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 22:
Silval Barbosa (PMDB-inc) 46%
Mauro Mendes (PSB) 24%
Wilson Santos (PSDB) 16%
others 1%
undecided/blank 13%

In Minas Gerais, the field is wide open with the resignation of wildly popular two-term Governor Aécio Neves (PSDB) who is running for Senate. The candidate of the government, Senator and former communications minister Hélio Costa (whose running-mate is former cabinet minister and Belo Horizonte mayor Patrus Ananias of the PT) is the favourite against incumbent Governor Antônio Anastasia (PSDB), who was Aécio Neves’ Vice Governor and is now the incumbent Governor. This race will prove one of the most interesting races on election night given that’s an equal contest between the candidates backed by two of Brazil’s most popular politicians: on one hand, Costa backed by Lula and, on the other, Anastasia backed by Aécio. As news gets out that Anastasia is Aécio’s candidate, his voting intentions have edged up significantly and he is now actually the favourite to win by a rather decent margin.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Antonio Anastasia (PSDB-inc) 43%
Hélio Costa (PMDB) 36%
5 others 4%
undecided/blank 17%

Pará‘s incumbent governor Ana Júlia Carepa (PT), unpopular, is facing a tough race for re-election against her PSDB predecessor Simão Jatene. Jatene is the favourite in a field which also includes an independent PMDB candidate, state deputy Juvenil.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 16:
Simão Jatene (PSDB) 43%
Ana Júlia Carepa (PT-inc) 30%
Juvenil (PMDB) 7%
2 others 4%
undecided/blank 16%

Back in 2006 in Paraíba, the PSDB’s Cássio Cunha Lima had defeated the PMDB’s José Maranhão but saw his election invalidated in 2009 for voting buying, letting José Maranhão take his place. José Maranhão is now competing for re-election in his own right, at the helm of a coalition with the support of the PT and his party. Polls place him consistently ahead, but not over 50%, of his main opponent, the PSB’s Ricardo Coutinho, former mayor of the state capital João Pessoa. A former PT member who broke with the PT in 2003, Coutinho is the de-facto right-wing candidate with the support of the PSDB and DEMs among others including the PDT.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 17:
José Maranhão (PMDB-inc) 51%
Ricardo Coutinho (PSB) 34%
undecided/blank 14%

Paraná Governor Roberto Requião (PMDB) stepped aside to run for Senate, while his Vice Governor Orlando Pessuti (PMDB) declined to run. The race is a two-way battle between PDT Senator Osmar Dias (his brother Álvaro is a PSDB Senator for the same state), defeated by Requião in 2006 but running this time with the support of the PT and PMDB and popular former Curitiba mayor Beto Richa of the PSDB as the opposition coalition’s candidate. The popular tucano candidate is the favourite in this race, but Osmar Dias hasn’t had his last word yet.

Last poll: Ibope, Oct. 2:
Beto Richa (PSDB) 45%
Osmar Dias (PDT-gov) 45%
others 2%
undecided/blank 8%

Governor Eduardo Campos (PSB) of Pernambuco, grandson of Miguel Arraes, was elected in 2006 defeating PFL incumbent Mendonça Filho. Being one of the most popular state governors in Brazil, Campos should face little trouble even against a high-profile opponent like senator and former governor Jarbas Vasconcelos running for the PMDB with the support of the PSDB and Democrats. Pernambuco’s PMDB has long been on the PMDB’s Right and in opposition to the pro-Lula national party. Campos will crush Vasconcelos like a fly in October, and could get the biggest victory of any gubernatorial candidate in the first round.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Eduardo Campos (PSB-inc) 69%
Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB) 18%
Edilson Silva (PSOL) 2%
undecided/blank 11%

The race for governor in Piauí is a major three-way contest. The incumbent, Wilson Martins (PSB), took the office only in March from the PT’s Wellington Dias, who resigned to run for Senate. He is running for re-election with the backing of the PT, the PMDB and other left-wing allies. He is opposed to his right by the PSDB’s Sílvio Mendes, heir of a long local political oligarchical clan, and former mayor of Teresina; but also by PTB Senator João Vicente (who is pro-Lula). It is foolish to give the edge to any of these three top contenders, and polling is likely hard here. Perhaps the incumbent has the edge.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Wilson Martins (PSB-inc) 39%
João Vicente (PTB) 27%
Sílvio Mendes (PSDB) 25%
other 1%
undecided/blank 8%

In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent Govenor Sérgio Cabral (PMDB) is running for re-election, something which despite some corruption scandals and the fact that Cabral prefers to spend time at the beach, should be rather easy. His main opponent will be the Green Party’s Fernando Gabeira, supported by the PSDB and Democrats. Gabeira was narrowly defeated in the race for mayor of Rio in 2008 by the PMDB’s Eduardo Paes. Cabral’s main opponent was supposed to be former governor Anthony Garotinho (PR), a clownish populist (who broke his own hunger strike because he was hungry and who likes acting like a crucified martyr) who had nonetheless managed to get the unofficial support of many PT stalwarts. However, the electoral courts ruled him and his wife (a former governor as well) ineligible for office due to past corruption. Fernando Peregrino (PR), Garotinho’s candidate, will do poorly. Now, Cabral has the PT’s support locked up and Gabeira will certainly not repeat his 2008 performance this year.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Sérgio Cabral (PMDB-inc) 58%
Fernando Gabeira (PV) 18%
Fernando Peregrino (PR) 5%
3 others 5%
undecided/blank 13%

Rio Grande do Norte is the Democrats’ best chance for a pickup this year with the retirement of term-limited PSB Governor Wilma de Faria. The Democrat Senator Rosalba Ciarlini is the early favourite against a left divided between former Natal mayor Carlos Eduardo (PDT) and incumbent Governor Iberê Souza (PSB), in office since Wilma de Faria’s March resignation to run for Senate. Given the incumbent’s unpopularity, a pickup of the state by Ciarlini seems likely.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 22:
Rosalba Ciarlini (DEM) 49%
Iberê Ferreira de Souza (PSB-inc) 29%
Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT) 9%
Sandro Pimentel (PSOL) 1%
undecided/blank 10%

Rio Grande do Sul‘s gubernatorial contest in 2006 saw the surprise first round defeat of PMDB incumbent Germano Rigotto and the surprise election of the PSDB’s Yeda Crusius over former PT governor Olívio Dutra in the runoff. Yeda Crusius’ term was marred by unpopular budget cuts, infighting within her government, bickering with the left and unproven allegations of corruption. Once seen as a rising star within the party, Yeda is now one of the country’s most unpopular governors and re-election will be tough, especially now that she has lost the support of the Democrats. The PMDB (in RS, the PMDB is on the right) is represented by former Porto Alegre mayor José Fogaça, at the helm of a coalition supported notably by the PDT. In a state where the PT had early success but has fallen off as of late, former PT justice minister Tarso Genro will seek to reconquer the top office in the state but is supported only by the PSB, PCdoB and PRB. Tarso Genro is the favourite over José Fogaça, and Yeda’s defeat in a landslide is assured.

Last poll: Ibope, Oct. 2:
Tarso Genro (PT) 48%
José Fogaça (PMDB) 26%
Yeda Crusius (PSDB-inc) 15%
others 3%
undecided/blank 8%

In Roraima, in a somewhat rare occurrence in Brazil, the incumbent governor, José de Anchieta Júnior (PSDB) could yet a tough fight for re-election in this isolated, sparsely populated Amazonian state. Perhaps it is because he took over in late 2007 from his late predecessor, Ottomar Pinto (PSDB), an old military supporter. His main competition is from former PP Governor Neudo Campos, at the top of a coalition supported by the PT. Though polling in the spring really put the incumbent in cold water, he is now the favourite once again.

Last poll: Ibope, Aug. 30:
José de Anchieta Júnior (PSDB-inc) 46%
Neudo Campos (PP) 38%
2 others 4%
undecided/blank 11%

Santa Catarina‘s gubernatorial mansion is open in 2010, giving place for a hot gubernatorial contest between the PP’s Ângela Amin (mayor of Florianópolis between 1997 and 2004), PT Senator Ideli Salvatti and Democrat Senator Raimundo Colombo. Colombo seems to have pulled ahead of Amin in latest polling, though Salvatti still lingers in a poor third place.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Raimundo Colombo (DEM-gov) 43%
Ângela Amin (PP) 27%
Ideli Salvatti (PT) 16%
others 1%
undecided/blank 13%

São Paulo‘s governors like running for president and not for re-election. After easily winning the 2006 contest to replace Geraldo Alckmin, running for President, Governor José Serra is retiring to run for President… while Geraldo Alckmin is running to replace him. At the top of a coalition supported by the PSDB but also the PMDB and Democrats, Alckmin is the early favourite against PT stalwart and incumbent Senator Aloizio Mercadante, who had been defeated badly by Serra in 2006. Also in the running but unlikely to make a huge impact is the candidate of the PP, federal deputy Celso Russomanno. The PP remains relatively strong in Paulo Maluf’s old base and used to be the PT’s main opponent, but the PSDB has taken the PP’s place on the centre-right. There were early rumours that the PT was pushing Ciro Gomes (PSB) to run for governor, but he refused to do so, even after dropping out of the presidential contest. The latest poll, from June, gives Alckmin 50% to Mercadente’s 17% and Russomanno’s 12%.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 22:
Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB-gov) 49%
Aloizio Mercadante (PT) 27%
Celso Russomanno (PP) 9%
Paulo Skaf (PSB) 4%
others 2%
undecided/blank 9%


Two-thirds of Senators are up in October, meaning that each state will elect two Senators. These elections, in which states serve as two-member constituencies, are carried out with FPTP under which the top two vote getters win. There is no runoff, preference votes or any other complex formula. As a result, margins between the winner of the second seat and the third placed candidate can be very narrow. In a federal state like Brazil, these senate elections, albeit for a federal institution, are covered more at the individual state level. Indeed, each coalition formed to support a gubernatorial candidate is usually doubled up to support two senate candidates. In a country like Brazil, having a coalition for two separate offices is quite a feat. The website of the Senate has an updated sortable list of Senators here and the Portuguese Wikipedia also has a list here whose main advantage is that it notes which Senators are sitting as substitues/alternates for Senators which have since joined cabinet or been elected to another office.

Each coalition usually nominates two candidates, though smaller parties or individual independent politicians may run independently of any gubernatorial coalition and nominate only one candidate. The independent far-left, for example, which has candidates in every state, usually nominates only candidate for Senate per state. It’s not as if they’ll get even one seat, let alone two.

Once again, this guide covers the main races in the major states. For a list of all candidates in all states, the TSE’s candidate registry is your best bet.

In the small Amazonian state of Acre, both incumbents are retiring, one of whom, Marina Silva, is running for President. Jorge Viana, a successful and popular former Governor of Acre (1999-2007) is running for Senate. He is quasi-certain to win in a landslide, leaving the race for the second seat wide open. The two main contenders are Sérgio Petecão of the small agrarian PMN, aligned with the opposition despite being left-wing, and Edvaldo Magalhães (PCdoB), the second name of the PT-led slate.

Last poll: Ibope, Aug. 31:
Jorge Viana (PT) 63%
Sérgio Petecão (PMN) 38%
Edvaldo Magalhães (PCdoB) 31%
João Correia (PMDB) 11%
Cezar Henrique (PSOL) 2%
undecided/blank 26%
cites only one candidate 29%


Here's what Mr. Calheiros tells you.

Alagoas‘ PMDB Senator Renan Calheiros, who served as President of the Senate, is a notorious crook and scumbag, is running for re-election. After the 2007 Renangate scandal in which Calheiros, an ally of Lula who also served Collor and FHC, was accused of taking money from a lobbyist to pay for the apartment and food of an illegitimate daughter he had with journalist Mônica Veloso, Renan Calheiros resigned from the top job in the Senate after months of controversy though the Senate voted against his impeachment and Lula informally supported him. He is likely to be re-elected, at the head of a coalition supported by the PT. Aside from that, the impact of the two PTB candidates close to Collor but also the result of a former Senator, Heloísa Helena (PSOL), elected in 1998 for the PT will be big things to look out for. Heloísa Helena, a major whistleblower in congressional corruption cases and staunch enemy of Renan Calheiros, is seeking to return to her old seat, though running for the PSOL. Federal deputy Benedito de Lira (PP) is also a top contender.












Last poll: Ibope, Oct. 2:
Renan Calheiros (PMDB-inc) 56%
Benedito de Lira (PP) 49%
Heloísa Helena (PSOL) 44%

In Amazonas, PMDB Governor Eduardo Braga is seeking to become a Senator and polls show he’s likely to win a landslide entry to the Senate. That means that one of the two incumbents will lose. Artur Virgílio (PSDB), a close ally of Cardoso and staunch opponent of Lula in Lula’s strongest state in 2006, is likely to hold on. However, Jefferson Praia (PDT), who took office after the 2008 death of popular PDT Senator Jefferson Peres, is trailing in fourth behind the PCdoB’s Vanessa Grazziotin, a federal deputy running on Braga’s PMDB-PT slate.











Last poll: Perspectiva, Sept. 22:
Eduardo Braga (PMDB) 39%
Vanessa Graziotin (PCdoB) 22%
Artur Virgílio (PSDB-inc) 20%
Jefferson Praia (PDT-inc) 5%
Marilene Corrêa (PT) 4%
undecided/blank 10%

In Bahia, the race is wide open with ACM Jr. (DEM) not filing for re-election. The first candidate on Geddel’s PMDB-led slate, incumbent Senator César Borges (PR) is faced with two Democrat opponents and two candidates supported by Wagner’s PT-led slate. Walter Pinheiro, a top-ranking PT deputy, is probably likely to win a seat. Former Salvador de Bahia mayor and incumbent federal deputy Lídice da Mata (PSB) is second on the Wagner slate. Edvaldo Brito (PTB), a former bionic mayor and tax lawyer, is second on Geddel’s senate slate. Polling gives the sole incumbent a big edge to win the first seat, with a fight between Lídice and Walter Pinheiro for the second seat. Edvaldo Brito and both DEM candidates trail in a distant fourth or worse position. However, given how unpredictable these close races can be, it is still likely that the race, which is a real three-way for two seats, results in the fluke defeat of César Borges and the election of both Lídice and Pinheiro.





Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
César Borges (PR-inc) 34%
Walter Pinheiro (PT) 34%
Lídice (PSB) 30%
Aleluia (DEM) 13%
José Ronaldo (DEM) 12%
Edvaldo Brito (PTB) 11%
others 5%
undecided/blank 61%

Former Ceará Governor and incumbent PSDB Senator Tasso Jereissati wouldn’t have won the gubernatorial contest against Cid Gomes, but he is a shoo-in for re-election being the PSDB slate’s only candidate. The race for a second seat, however, is tight between Eunício Oliveira (PMDB), a former communications minister in Lula’s government and his ‘running-mate’ PT deputy and former cabinet minister José Pimentel. Eunício Oliveira seems to be lightly favoured to win the second seat.

Last poll: Ibope, Oct. 2:
Tasso Jereissati (PSDB-inc) 50%
Eunício Oliveira (PMDB) 47%
José Pimentel (PT) 42%
others 8%
undecided/blank 31%
cites only one candidate 22%

In the Federal District, the first seat can be given right away to the PDT incumbent Cristovam Buarque, a former PT governor of the DF, education minister and even presidential candidate in 2006. Though he has broken with the PT, he is the top candidate on the slate supporting the PT’s Agnelo Queiroz in the gubernatorial contest. His running-mate of sorts, the PSB’s Rollemberg is in a tough fight for the second seat with former PSDB Governor Maria de Lourdes Abadia (PSDB). Alberto Fraga (DEM), the second candidate of the right, trails further behind.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Cristovam Buarque (PDT-inc) 48%
Rollemberg (PSB) 38%
Maria de Lourdes Abadia (PSDB) 24%
Alberto Fraga (DEM) 23%
others 8%
undecided/blank 59%

Goiás offers a rare senatorial contest where both incumbents are running for re-election. Furthermore, both of these candidates are supported by the same slate. Demóstenes Torres (DEM) is narrowly ahead of his colleague Lúcia Vânia (PSDB) while the PT’s Pedro Wilson trails both by a wide margin.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Demóstenes Torres (DEM-inc) 52%
Lúcia Vânia (PSDB-inc) 39%
Pedro Wilson (PT) 18%
Adib Elias Júnior (PMDB) 11%
Renner (PP) 7%
Paulo Roberto Cunha (PP) 6%
others 5%
cites only one candidate 21%
undecided/blank 41%

Maranhão‘s senatorial contest doesn’t feature any Sarneys this year, but it could be seen as a proxy fight between the PMDB-PT coalition behind Roseana and the PDT-PSDB coalition behind Jackson Lago, her arch-nemesis at the state level. Edison Lobão, a close ally of the Sarney clan and a former energy and mines minister in Lula’s cabinet, is running for re-election to a Senate seat he vacated in his son’s favour when he entered government. Supported by Roseana’s coalition, he is favoured to win the first seat. The second seat is likely a contest between the PDT-PSDB coalition and the smaller PSB-PCdoB (anti-Sarney left) coalition. Zé Reinaldo, a PFL-supporter of Sarney turned PSB-opponent of Sarney, is the latter’s top candidate for that seat. Zé Reinaldo was governor of the state between 2002 and 2006, taking office when Roseana (then affiliated PFL and incumbent governor) resigned to run for President in 2002. He is currently trailing another Sarney stalwart, João Alberto (PMDB). Edson Vidigal (PSDB), supported by Lago’s coalition, trails in fourth.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 19:
Edson Lobão (PMDB-inc) 42%
João Alberto (PMDB) 33%
Zé Reinaldo (PSB) 16%
Edson Vidigal (PSDB) 11%
Roberto Rocha (PSDB) 10%
others 7%
cites only one candidate 10%
undecided/blank 70%

After two terms as governor of Mato Grosso, the soy king Blairo Maggi (PR) – who has a declared fortune of R$152,470,034 (US$86 million) – is running for Senate at the helm of a coalition supported notably by the PT. Still vastly popular and very influential, Maggi is a slam-dunk for the first seat leaving only one real seat open, to be fought between the PSDB’s Antero Paes de Barros and the PT’s Carlos Abicalil, the second on Maggi’s slate. The PSDB candidate, at the head of a slate named ‘Coalition Senator Jonas Pinheiro’ seems to hope that the memory of the late Jonas Pinheiro, a DEM Senator who died in 2008, will carry him through but it’s easier said than done. Pedro Taques (PDT), the top candidate of what I call the local ‘anti-Maggi left’ trails in distant fourth.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Blairo Maggi (PR) 67%
Carlos Abicalil (PT) 36%
Antero Paes de Barros (PSDB) 24%
Pedro Taques (PDT) 21%
others 14%
cites only one candidate 14%
undecided/blank 24%

Minas Gerais is probably the crazy race to watch. On one hand, the vastly popular former PSDB Governor Aécio Neves is on the road to a landslide victory and on the other a former president aged 81 is on the comeback trail. That’s Itamar Franco, now affiliated with the opposition PPS, and running on Aécio’s slate. Itamar, who despite feuding with Cardoso in 1999 and supporting Lula in 2002, is now back on the right. He will fight it tough with the PT’s Fernando Pimentel, a popular former mayor of Belo Horizonte. The common wisdom seems to be that both Aécio and Itamar will win, though Pimentel is edging up behind Itamar which makes an upset of the 81-year old former President a possibility.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Aécio Neves (PSDB) 67%
Itamar Franco (PPS) 43%
Fernando Pimentel (PT) 34%
others 13%
undecided/blank 44%

What is wrong with Brazilian politics is on full display in Pará‘s senatorial contest, where, unless one or more of them are barred from running, will oppose three local crooks. Jáder Barbalho (PMDB), a well-known money launderer and convicted crook, is the favourite to return to a Senate seat he was forced to abandon after a scandal in 2001. Two other crooks, Paulo Rocha (PT) and Flexa Ribeiro (PSDB) are competing for the other seat.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 16:
Jáder Barbalho (PMDB) 42%
Paulo Rocha (PT) 33%
Flexa Ribeiro (PSDB) 29%
Marinor Brito (PSOL) 8%
Paulo Braga (PSTU) 7%
others 10%
undecided/blank 51%
cites only one candidate 20%

Paraíba‘s former governor, Cássio Cunha Lima (PSDB), who got his 2006 election invalidated for vote buying in 2009 and was forced to forfeit the gubernatorial mansion, is seeking to run for Senate as the first candidate on the PSB-PSDB-DEM slate backing Ricardo Coutinho in the gubernatorial race. His candidacy could yet be annulled, but he remains in the race as of today. As long as he’s in the race, re-election for incumbent Senator Efraim Moraes (DEM) will be tough. Moraes remains in a tough race with the PMDB federal deputy Vitalzinho, supported by the PMDB-PT alliance backing the incumbent Governor.


Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 16:
Cássio Cunha Lima (PSDB) 49%
Vitalzinho (PMDB) 33%
Efraim Moraes (DEM-inc) 29%
Wilson Santiago (PMDB) 24%
others 6%
undecided/blank 39%
cites only one candidate 20%

Paraná governor Roberto Requião (PMDB) is the top contender for the first seat in the state at the head of a coalition supported by the PT, which provides the slate’s second name in the person of Gleisi Hoffman, who had narrowly lost the 2006 senate contest to the PSDB’s Álvaro Dias. The main candidate of the opposition is federal deputy Gustavo Fruet (PSDB). His running mate is Ricardo Barros (PP).

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 8:
Roberto Requião (PMDB) 50%
Gleisi Hoffmann (PT) 47%
Gustavo Fruet (PSDB) 21%
Ricardo Barros (PP) 15%
others 6%
undecided/blank 36%
cites only one candidate 36%

The race in Pernambuco is going to be one of the biggest contests in the Senate. Incumbent Senator Marco Maciel (DEM), Cardoso’s Vice President and slick old PFL boss in the region is facing tough re-election against the PT’s Humberto Costa, a member of Eduardo Campos’ state government. In 2002, Marco Maciel’s coalition had gotten two seats with the second going to the PSDB’s Sérgio Guerra, now downgrading to run for federal deputy. Armando Monteiro Neto (PTB), the second candidate on the PT-PSB slate, is coming very close to Maciel, who trails in second behind Humberto Costa. Sometimes good vote management by a slate can buy them both seats: that’s what happened in Pernambuco in 2002. If an old political boss (who has served a total of 18 years in the Senate, 8 years as VP and 3 years as governor) like Marco Maciel loses, it would be a major shock and a blow to the power of the old conservative pro-military oligarchs of the region. According to the most recent polls, Monteiro has placed himself in second ahead of Maciel, who seems to be destined to defeat.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Humberto Costa (PT) 50%
Armando Monteiro Neto (PTB) 42%
Marco Maciel (DEM-inc) 31%
Raul Jungmann (PPS) 11%
others 6%
undecided/blank 60%

Piauí‘s two Senators – Mão Santa (PSC) and Heráclito Fortes (DEM) – are both running for re-election on the same right-wing slate, but only one of them will win this time. The reason is the candidacy of the popular PT governor, Wellington Dias, who commands over 60% of voting intentions. Thus, the Democrats could find themselves losing another seat in the Northeast.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Wellington Dias (PT) 59%
Mão Santa (PSC-inc) 30%
Ciro Nogueira Filho (PP) 27%
Heráclito Fortes (DEM-inc) 20%
Antonio José (PT) 13%
others 3%
undecided/blank 24%
cites only one candidate 23%

Rio de Janeiro will see a good senatorial contest between some local heavy weights. Incumbent Senator Marcelo Crivella (PRB), also a gospel singer and a major bishop in the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), a close supporter of the Lula government and ally of Vice President Alencar, is running for re-election. Evangelical churches are big in Rio, with 22% of the state’s population being evangelical and only 59% or so being Catholic. Crivella, however, is running for re-election independently of the PMDB-PT slate backing Governor Sérgio Cabral but polls show he is the favourite for the first seat.  He faces his traditional rival and well-known three-term mayor of Rio, César Maia (DEM), running on the slate backing the Green Fernando Gabeira for governor. With the PT’s Lindberg Farias, a former UNE student leader aged 40, it is possible that César Maia – another old-timer DEM politico – could lose. Lindberg Farias is neck and neck with or ahead of César Maia in polls and could get in. If he wins and Collor loses in Alagoas, you could have the amusing scenario of having one of the leaders of Collor’s impeachment in 1992 being allied with Collor himself given that they both back Dilma. Also vying to get in are two candidates supported by a PR-PTdoB coalition supported by Anthony Garotinho, one of whom is former singer Waguinho. Yet, polling indicates that both these candidates are polling poorly.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Lindberg Farias (PT) 40%
Marcelo Crivella (PRB-inc) 38%
César Maia (DEM) 24%
Jorge Picciani (PMDB) 24%
Waguinho (PTdoB) 13%
Marcelo Cerqueira (PPS) 6%
Milton Temer (PSOL) 5%
others 5%
undecided/blank 47%

Wilma de Faria, the PSB governor of Rio Grande do Norte isn’t as popular as some of her counterparts but she’s still one of those governors who hope to go to the Senate. However, she faces another bigwig, Senator Garibaldi Alves Filho, a member of one of the state’s most influential political families (his cousin, the PDT’s Carlos Eduardo Alves, is running for Governor, his other cousin Henrique Eduardo Alves is a 10-term deputy and leader of the PMDB in the Chamber, his father is the first deputy to Senator Rosalba Ciarlini, and his uncle was a UDN governor of the state in the 60s). He was President of the Senate between 2007 and 2009, and is running for a second consecutive term and third term overall. He is the runaway favourite for the first seat, leaving Wilma de Faria in a tough fight with incumbent DEM Senator José Agripino Maia, another scion of a conservative family dynasty (during the military regime) and long-term Senator. José Agripino Maia is also the cousin of Wilma de Faria’s ex-husband, state deputy Lavoisier Maia. Sadly, it seems that the local dynasties won’t fall from grace just yet. On a side note, if Rosalba Ciarlini (DEM), an incumbent Senator, becomes Governor, her first deputy, Garibaldi Alves, will become Senator and will thus join his son in the Senate. Father and son, both (corrupt) Senators, how sweet.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Garibaldi Alves Filho (PMDB-inc) 60%
José Agripino Maia (DEM-inc) 58%
Wilma de Faria (PSB) 37%
Hugo Manso (PT) 6%
others 4%
undecided/blank 20%
cites only one name 14%

Another close race is shaping up in Rio Grande do Sul. There are three potential winners for two seats. Defeated in 2006, former governor Germano Rigotto (PMDB) is running for Senate supported by the PMDB-PDT slate backing José Fogaça. He faces a tough fight again incumbent PT Senator Paulo Paim, but also the current frontrunner, PP journalist Ana Amélia Lemos, running quite a bit ahead of her embattled colleague, incumbent governor Yeda Crusius.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Ana Amélia Lemos (PP) 53%
Paulo Paim (PT-inc) 49%
Germano Rigotto (PMDB) 39%
Abgail Pereira (PCdoB) 12%
others 5%
undecided/blank 41%

Rondônia‘s Governor Ivo Cassol (PP) would like to become a Senator in October but faces a tough fight to become one. His main opponent is incumbent PMDB Senator Valdir Raupp (a former ally of Collor), supported by a heterogeneous coalition including the PDT, PCdoB and the DEMs. PT Senator Fátima Cleide is also running for re-election, but polls show that she could lose out to Cassol for the second seat. The PSC’s Agnaldo Muniz, supported by the PSDB, is trailing badly.

Last poll: Ibope, Aug. 30:
Ivo Cassol (PP) 52%
Valdir Raupp (PMDB-inc) 47%
Fátima Cleide (PT-inc) 26%
Melki Donadon (PHS) 10%
Agnaldo Muniz (PSC) 8%
2 others 3%
undecided/blank 31%
cites only one name 23%

Santa Catarina‘s slightly corrupt PMDB (right-wing) Governor Luiz Henrique is also running for Senate. With Ângela Amin’s husband Esperidião Amin (PP) not running, the other main candidates in this race are Hugo Biehl (PP – ally of Ângela Amin), former PSDB deputy Paulo Bauer (Luiz Henrique’s second man) and PT deputy Cláudio Vignatti. Paulo Bauer seems to be beating out Cláudio Vignatti for the second seat.

Last poll: Ibope, Sept. 23:
Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB) 45%
Paulo Bauer (PSDB) 25%
Cláudio Vignatti (PT) 21%
Hugo Biehl (PP) 11%
others 15%
undecided/blank 60%
cites only one candidate 24%

São Paulo might elect the tucano Alckmin easily, but his coalition’s senate candidate faces a tougher ride. Marta Suplicy (PT), a former mayor of São Paulo (2001-2005, defeated by Serra in 2004 and Kassab in 2008), as well as a former tourism minister, is likely to join her ex-husband, well-known PT Senator Eduardo Suplicy in the Senate. After that, it gets kinda crazy. Incumbent PTB Senator Romeu Tuma (generally aligned with Lula’s opposition) seems like he’s going to lose rather badly. Former governor Orestes Quercia (PMDB), running on Alckmin’s PSDB-PMDB slate, was originally a top contender, but dropped out late because of prostate cancer. The late surger of this campaign, Netinho de Paula (PCdoB), a black singer and TV presenter, could beat out even Marta for first place or is assured to win even if he doesn’t do that. Although he has a few controversies of his own, Netinho is popular with poor voters and could become SP’s first black senator. Other candidates include Aloysio Nunes (PSDB), a former Cardoso cabinet minister, also on the PSDB-PMDB slate, who will do better now that Quercia is out; and Ciro Moura (PTC), a fringe loon who could do surprisingly well, potentially because he shares a first name with Ciro Gomes.

Last poll: Datafolha, Sept. 29:
Marta Suplicy (PT) 37%
Netinho de Paula (PCdoB) 39%
Aloysio Nunes (PSDB) 29%
Romeu Tuma (PTB-inc) 20%
Ciro Moura (PTC) 8%
Moacyr Franco (PSL) 6%
Ricardo Young (PV) 5%
others 8%
undecided/blank 47%

Final note

This guide provides a basic and cursory overview of Brazilian history, regions, parties and the 2010 elections. It will be updated with new information, polling data and other interesting races that shape up between now and October.

On a final note regarding polling, the track record of Brazilian polling isn’t exactly good, especially in ‘downballot’ races. They had put Paulo Souto far ahead of Jaques Wagner in 2006 in Bahia, the latter won. They had put Eduardo Campos third in the first round in Pernambuco, back in 2006 as well, when he came second. They’re still a good guide, but sometimes it’s best to take them with a grain of salt.

  1. Thank you. This is an awesome level of detail.

  2. Wow, just wow. That’s an amazing work, it made me discover so many interesting things about Brazilian politics and history. Well, congratulations.

  3. One of the best guides to the political structures and voting patterns of a single country on the internet. No, that’s not an exaggeration. Amazing work. Hope you’ve printed yourself a paper copy.

  4. This, like the rest of your site is amazing! I check your site every single day to see if anything has been added. Please, keep up the great work!

  5. After mentioning this to a friend, I copied and pasted this into word to see how long this was. Almost 28,000 words. No mean feat.

  6. ciaran leonard

    Good, detailed and comprehensive overview of the election details.

  7. This was great stuff, My wife is now living in Brazil and I plan to join her very soon because of the wonderful things that are happening here in the United States :(

  8. This is brilliant. If you were to recommend a book on Brazilian politics, what would it be?

  9. The most in-depth review of the elections I’ve read. Massive respect for taking the time to write such an excellent piece.

    I’ve linked back to it at my blog, and I hope at least some of the people who follow the link will read some of it (if not everything). I also wrote a summarised outsider’s view of the election results here. I’d appreciate feedback, if you have time – particularly in terms of accuracy and relevancy.

    Given Dilma’s victory, will you write another post (or an edit) explaining the significance?

  10. This website is amazing, congratulations ! And very useful to study in english lenguage ;)

  1. Pingback: Election Preview: Brazil 2010 « World Elections

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