Yesterday Serra gave a speech in which he celebrated the consolidation of “a political field for freedom and democracy” in these elections. And on my twitter another PSDB leader, Arnaldo Madeira, echoed this feeling of a struggle that has just began. Feldman, from the Green Party, in a more moderate tone, said it’s time to look ahead. But my feeling is that Dilma will be less scrupulous, and have less power than Lula. And the opposition doesn’t have reasons to be as courteous to an appointee who won the elections with the State machine as to a legitimate political figure as Lula. So I expect – and I hope – the opposition to be united in the defense of a few very important principles: democracy, transparency and economic growth.
I myself believe that there will be renovated attempts to curtail freedom of expression. In several states there are unconstitutional laws being proposed to institute committees that will regulate the press. This is a very smart move from PT, as in Congress such laws will never pass, exactly because of… the press! But the press in the States is less independent to start with, so why not start there? Brilliant. They are always a step ahead and we are basically in a defensive position, trying to preserve what we had gained in the late 70’s and 80’s. So that is an important part of the first struggle. There is also a political reform to be fought for; equal representation for populous states, district vote, etc.
Then there is transparency in the management of public funds. Difficult as the federal government was basically occupied by the party. One of the main reasons the press had been a target of PT is because whistle-blowers use it to ventilate their disagreements agains each other when deals go sour. Interestingly, General Geisel who started the “opening” of the regime in Brazil used to use the press to control endemic curruption in his own government. He needed the press himself, so he would allow leaking of shady deals to the newspapers and not censor them. Conceptually, then, we are basically one step behind “that sordid German”, as my father used to call him in the 70s. In the opposition, it’s difficult to prevent corruption, so that’s basically a lost battle in the federal level.
And then economic growth, the real issue for 99 per cent of Brazilians. There are economic challenges ahead. Are we in a credit, housing bubble? Can we keep this exchange rate forever? Can we keep spending with interests at those levels, or will we appropriate funds from State-owned corporations such as Petrobras to solve budgetary problems? Besides, we need real public investment, in big cities, in infrastructure, in education, and even in health. And PT showed that it has to imagination to build programs and no capacity to implement them. In higher education, is spite of massive investment, enrollment did not grow much bacause of lack of planning. Federal highways are in bad shape. Agricultural products and basic consumer goods are cheap now because of the exchange rate, but for how long will they be kept like that? And the environment? Dilma sees it as a limitation to development. There might be ideological reasons for that, but the fact is that sustentability needs thinking.
All aspects come together. When the press, parties and society start questioning the government, how will it react? That was my main doubt in 2002, with Lula; only now it’s 100 times worse. He could say: 1. I am Lula. 2. the economy is going well. Dilma is an invention of a State machine, so she cannot claim 1. And 2 didn’t depend on the public policies of Lula’s government; it was sheer luck and the results of the Cardoso’s State reforms. Dilma will have to live with the results of Lula’s State reforms, such as the privatization of regulatory agencies.
American readers: note in the maps below the coincidence of GDP and votes. At Estadão, the votes, http://www.estadao.com.br/especiais/mapa-da-votacao-para-presidente-nos-municipios,123626.htm. And I found now this map to give you an idea of the geography of production in Brazil, http://www.gismaps.com.br/economia/economia.htm, will try to find something better. Blue, for the oppositon: high GDP, export-driven. Red, for PT: low GDP, federal aid recepient.
In a certain way, Brazilian politics is becoming more similar to American in the sense that a few major issues are dividing national votes in two. In the first decade after the dictatorship there was a plurality of issues, of perspectives, that spread the vote. The New York Times spoke of fragmentation (in a first version of the article about Dilma’s victory, on the web, I’m almost sure), which is wrong; the situation was more complex only. There was no fragmentation; actually, there was I believe more dialogue in the past, as everybody was trying to figure out what to do with this new right. In the same family, you had different votes with no chiasm.
Now I think there is a risk of fragmentation. In my case, I simply google filtered messages from colleagues straight to the trash, unfollowed acquaintances and basically was happy to be among my own clique of freedom lovers, such as the funny fake Foreign Minister on twitter, @MinCelsoAmorin. Speaking of whom, the Brazilian foreign policy will most likely… well, let’s not talk about that.
Blogs to follow: Dora Kramer, Alon Feuerwerker, Carlos Novaes, Alberto Goldman and Paulo Renato. Thanks to Felipe Pait and Serginho Goldbaum.