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From: The Socialist issue 458, 12 October 2006: Health workers beat the privateers

Search site for keywords: Brazil - Lula

Brazilian elections: Lula fails to win in first round

THE FIRST round of the Brazilian elections was an upset for the current president and candidate for re-election - Luis Inácio Lula da Silva - of the Workers' Party (PT).

André Ferrari, Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI, Brazil)

Lula and the PT, and almost the entire media, were assuming a definite victory for Lula on the first ballot. But the 48.61% of the vote achieved by the coalition headed by the PT was not sufficient. Lula will now face a run-off on 29 October with Geraldo Alckmin, ex-governor of São Paulo state and candidate for PSDB (Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy), who got 41.64%.

One important factor on the electoral scene was the 6.85% vote (more than 6.5 million votes) for senator Heloísa Helena of PSOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty) - a new left party founded in 2004 that participated in the election as part of a Left Front which also included PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party) and PCB (Brazilian Communist Party).

In the two last weeks of the campaign, support for Lula was affected by a new scandal involving leaders of the PT. The federal police arrested members of PT who were trying to pay a criminal gang the equivalent of 1.7 million reals ($800,000 dollars) for an alleged dossier that connected the PSDB, and the previous government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to corruption schemes. The dossier was going to be used to weaken PSDB's presidential candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, and the candidate for governor in São Paulo state, José Serra, who was health minister during Cardoso's government.

But it backfired. Alckmin is in the second round and Serra won the election in São Paulo, gaining 58% of the vote, compared to 32% for PT's candidate, Alo'so Mercadante.

The broadcasting of piles of money found with PT members, the fact that the source of the money is still not clear, and also Lula's non-attendance at the TV debates, ended Lula's chances of a first round victory.

The "dossiergate" has already led to the resignation of PT's national chair, Ricardo Berzoini, the main organiser of Lula's campaign, and Hamilton Lacerda, one of the main organisers of PT's campaign in São Paulo state.

They add to a series of high-ranking leaders of the PT and ministers that have resigned because of corruption scandals, in particular the "monthly allowance" scandal - a huge bribing scheme using public money to buy off MPs.

A neo-liberal government

The Lula government went through a profound political crisis during 2005 due to these corruption scandals. At the height of the crisis, the government only managed to survive because the right-wing opposition feared the situation would get out of hand, with themselves being affected and provoking an even deeper crisis for the whole political regime.

The Lula government's budget cuts to pay the public debt to the bankers and the neo-liberal reforms implemented were clearly in the interests of the ruling class.

At the end of this year, when Lula is completing his fourth year in government, he will have handed more than $300 billion in interest payments on the public debt to bankers and speculators. To show their satisfaction, they became the biggest financial backers of his election campaign, paying more money to PT than even to PSDB.

Lula's government adopted a conscious policy of creating an electoral base, built upon government handouts, such as the "family allowance". Spending $2.5 billion a year, giving an average $30 a month to roughly 8 million families (more than 30 million people), Lula managed to secure an electoral base among the poorest and least organised in Brazil, especially on the north-eastern region of the country.

The government also tried to build an image of social concern over access to universities, a widespread demand and one of Lula's main planks in the election. However, Lula manipulated a genuine social demand to promote a neo-liberal, privatisiation policy. The government's 'university reform' is based on using public funds to finance private universities.

However, the fundamental reason for why many workers again voted for Lula is the lack of an political alternative. If there is a discontent with Lula's government, the years of Cardoso and the PSDB are still fresh in people's memory. The left alternative presented by PSOL and the Left Front played an important role in exposing the false polarisation between the PT and PSDB, but was not seen as viable electoral alternative by a majority of workers.

Class struggles

LULA'S VOTE this time was completely different in the 2002 elections. Then there was an enormous hope and enthusiastic support for social change under the PT. Many voted this time 'holding their noses', justifying their votes in the name of the 'lesser evil'. There will be no 'blank cheque' for the PT and the government during a possible second term.

If re-elected, Lula will try to quickly implement his neo-liberal reforms. In addition, the government will have to implement austerity measures, with more cutbacks, to maintain the primary budget surplus in order to continue paying the debt schedule.

The scenario will be the same if Alckmin wins the election. In that case, bigger clashes between the next government and the trade unions and social movements, will be inevitable. The chances of an intensification of the struggles, including workers in the public and private sector, apart from the landless workers and the youth in schools and universities, are much bigger.

PT and the left

IN GOVERNMENT, Lula and the PT's left-wing past was used very skilfully to confuse the workers, dividing them, and in that way containing a radicalisation of the struggle and resistance. The government co-opted the most combative trade union centre, the CUT, to the point of appointing its chair as Minister of Labour and defender of labour reform. The same happened to the UNE (National Union of Students). Even the more combative and radicalised movements, such as the MST (Movement of the Landless Rural Workers), ended up neutralised before the government.

Labour struggles - civil servants, workers in the private sector (eg at Volkswagen in the industrial ABC region in São Paulo, and the current bank workers' strike) - took place but tended to remain isolated. Generally, they didn't reach any real victories and couldn't count on the old workers' organisations to unify the struggles.

This puts the issue of building new organisations for the struggle as a concrete theme for an important layer of workers. There are plans to hold a National Gathering of Workers next year, called by organisations like Conlutas (National Coordination of Struggles) and the Intersindical to draw up a common plan for action to resist the coming attacks.

PSOL after the election

OF SEVEN MPs, PSOL managed to re-elect only three: Ivan Valente (São Paulo), Chico Alencar (Rio de Janeiro) and Luciana Genro (Rio Grande do Sul). The current MP Babá, one of the founders of the party, who transferred his candidature from Pará in the north to Rio de Janeiro, didn't get re-elected. The same happened to MP Maninha (Distrito Federal), João Alfredo (Ceará) and Orlando Fantazzini (São Paulo).

PSOL got two state MPs in São Paulo (Carlos Giannazi and Raul Marcelo) and one in Rio de Janeiro (Marcelo Freixo), but lost four MPs in the states of Santa Catarina, Espírito Santo, Pará and Amapá. The other parties of the Left Front (PSTU and PCB) didn't get anyone elected.

The second presidential ballot will also be a test for PSOL. Heloísa Helena declared that the party will support neither Lula nor Alckmin and that no member of the party can give public support to any of the two. In spite of that, the party is not adopting a clear position of a "null" vote, leaving it free for its supporters to vote as they like. Socialismo Revolucionário supports a "null" vote against Lula and Alckmin and the necessity to organise a struggle to resist the attacks that will come with the next government.

The future of PSOL will depend upon linking up with the social struggles that will develop in the country in the coming period. Socialismo Revolucionário, Brazilian section of CWI, acting as a tendency in PSOL, defends a socialist programme and a concept of a party that is democratic, militant, internationalist, based on local structures and linked to workers' struggles.

Heloísa Helena's campaign

HELOêSA HELENA'S candidature was a big step in the direction of rebuilding a political left-wing.

The Left Front put forward a manifesto that was quite advanced, calling for a break with imperialism and finance capital, suspension of the payment of the internal and foreign public debt, the building of really democratic institutions that would represent a new power under the direct control of the workers and the people, and defending the social rights of workers, women, black people, etc, against super-exploitation.

However, when Heloísa Helena reached 12% in the opinion polls and Alckmin stagnated temporarily, the idea that Heloísa could overtake Alckmin and reach the second ballot against Lula created enormous pressure to moderate her political profile.

The fundamental emphasis of the campaign became Heloísa's qualities - like courage, integrity and honesty. The programmatic alternative became more and more moderate.

A show of strength by the mass movement, together with the defence of a left programme could have won the support of an important segment of the pauperised middle classes, as well as the working class. Even if an electoral victory was very unlikely, this would have laid the ground for the construction of a new workers' movement.

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