What was the presidential election about?
The election of 2010 was a basically a plebiscite: did voters approve of the last eight years President Lula’s government? The answer was yes. Lula’s two terms in office were marked by strong economic growth, low inflation, rising personal incomes, declining inequality and a greater presence of Brazil on the international stage. In 2010, the outgoing President commands an 80% approval rating and the economy will grow by more than 7%. In opinion polls, large majorities of Brazilians expressed their hope that the next president would continue Lula’s policies. Not surprisingly, Lula’s preferred candidate, Dilma Rousseff, won handily.
Why has Lula’s Party been so successful?
Founded in 1980, the Workers’ Party (PT) defined itself as a “democratic socialist” party and as a “modern” party, meaning that it rejected traditional corrupt political practices. Over the next two decades it moved toward the centre-left not simply as a result of global ideological changes but also because of trial and error at the local level. By the time Lula won power in 2002, nearly a third of Brazilians had lived under PT mayors or state governors, and voters were familiar with the party’s reputation for innovative, transparent government. There is also no doubt that Lula’s charisma and leadership skills were hugely important. Lula taught the PT that the left could not govern alone, but only by making cross-party alliances with the centre and right.
What will it mean for Brazil abroad?
Brazil’s influence has grown in recent years partly because global power shifts (e.g. the rise of China, the decline of the U.S. economy) have provided new windows of opportunity. The country is fortunate to have a talented diplomatic corps which is particularly astute at acting within international organizations, so it has seized many new opportunities. But again, the respect accorded to the globetrotting Lula (“Bono with a beard”) has enhanced Brazil’s visibility and stature. President Dilma will maintain the general lines of Brazilian international strategy, without presidentializing the policy-making process. She is a managerial personality with a strong domestic impulse, and is more interested in focusing on Brazil’s infrastructure than on its global projection. Diplomats will once again step into that role.
What is the future for Brazilian democracy?
Brazil is a consolidated democracy. The system is based on intense competition and high participation, and there are no major anti-democratic forces. This was the fifth consecutive election fought between the same two parties (PT and PSDB), and once again the victor (Dilma Rousseff) has a strong mandate. But Lula is a tough act to follow. It is hard to overestimate Lula’s impact on national politics (one has to go back to 1960, to find a presidential election in which he was not a candidate), so all eyes will be on the relationship between the former president and his successor.