Commitment to progressive politics

November 23, 2014

Brazil sticks to the Workers Party for the third time because of its consistently high level of public investments in social and pro-poor programmes

Commitment to progressive politics

After suffering some serious nervous moments during the zigzag Brazilian presidential election, Dilma Roussef, the incumbent president, scraped home with a wafer thin victory in the run-off round on October 26 (Dilma is a former Marxist guerilla fighter who suffered imprisonment under military regimes in Brazil).

The first nervous moment came when Marina Silva, the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), surged into the presidential mantle after the death of Eduard Campos in a plane crash, creating scare by topping the opinion poll prior to the first round of the election.

This sudden surge led to the speculation that Marina was on course to get the highest vote in the first round with the attendant possibility of beating Dilma in the second round. Sensing this unforeseen threat to the established political duopoly, Dilma Rousseff, presidential candidate for the Workers Party (PT), and the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) Aecio Neves spewed joint verbal fire on Marina Silva which sunk her in the first round, leaving her third in the vote trail.

The second anxious moment was occasioned by Marina’ decision to throw her weight behind Neves in the run-off round, unlike her previous unsuccessful first round presidential bid in the last election when she did not endorse any candidate in the run-off.

With the run-off set up between Dilma Rousseff and Aecio Neves, the sixth final round bout between the two major parties got underway in dead earnest. The result was widely predicted to be a close-run affair after Marina’s endorsement of Neves’s challenge in the run-off phase. However, despite this combined opposition platform, Dilma managed to shake off Neves by three points -- the closest margin of victory in any Brazilian presidential election. Dilma won at 51 per cent to Neves’ 48 per cent: only 3.5 million votes separated the winner from the loser in a country of 143 million eligible voters.

In her victory speech, Dilma pledged to work for the unity of Brazil after a period of bitter and dirty election campaign. From the election result, it is quite plain that people have voted for continuity and have opted to stay with the party they have come to know well over the last decade.

Having said this, there is not much difference between the two parties, situated as they are on the same social democratic spectrum. In terms of the policy difference the PT is slightly left of centre while the PSDB stands on the right of the centre with a pronounced pro-business orientation. According to one observer, this election represented the continuity and consolidation of the social democratic current in Brazil after the retreat of military regimes. Dilma won overwhelmingly from the poor north and north east regions that seemed to have hugely benefited from the PT’s social welfare programme. Whereas the PSDB scored well from the South and South east regions, affluent and rich, testifying to the party’s pro-business tilt.

Despite the widespread June 2013 protest against the administration of Dilma over deteriorating public services and bus fare hikes, the PT has won its third term on its sterling record of 12 years of investment in public and social welfare programme. Though economic growth has slowed down under Dilma’s watch, the investment in social and pro-poor programmes, a legacy of Lula’s years, has continued apace. For the last 12 years running, the GDP per person has grown by an annual 2.5 per cent, three times the growth achieved under the PSDB’s president Fernando Cardoso from 1995-2002.

Since the PT’s ascendency to power in 2002, poverty rate has been reduced by 55 per cent with the extreme poverty seeing a whopping reduction of 65 per cent. For the poorest of the poor, Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia, a template for conditional cash transfers the world over, has increased cash transfer from 10 per cent in 2003 to 60 per cent in 2011. As a result of the programme almost 40 million poor have been lifted out of poverty. PT has also made considerable dent to long-standing inequalities evidenced in 40 per cent of those just below the median, doubling their share of income as compared to the decade before.

In addition, the minimum wage has registered an increase of 84 per cent after adjusting inflation. Unemployment has been at a historic low, at 4.9 per cent -- a huge advance on 12.3 per cent when Lula took over as president in 2002. Equally significant is the fact that the quality of job has increased, too, with the proportion of workers moving from an informal economy to better-paid and better quality jobs rising from 13 to 22 per cent.

Perhaps of equal import is the measure of granting domestic workers, which abound in Brazilian elite homes, the status of formal employees with working conditions and minimum wage improved and social security protections introduced. These record gains have fed into the PT’s razor-thin third win despite a string of protests and the combined weight of the opposition candidates stacked against the party.

Here the PT success closely mirrors the basis of Eva Morales’s third electoral term in Bolivia. Both the Bolivian Movement Towards Socialism party of Eva Morales and the Brazilian’s Workers Party have won third terms on the back of consistently high level of public investments in social and pro-poor programmes; both parties have also crested the long struggles of the social movements against injustice, poverty and social and political inequalities in the region. In both countries a consistent and principled commitment to progressive policies on minimum wage, poverty, inequality and unemployment struck chord with voters from poor regions of the country. In the Bolivian case consistent economic growth added an extra factor to Morales’s victory. However, unlike Morales, Dilma will have to contend with an increasingly fractious Congress which now inhabits a constellation of 28 parties as opposed to 22 in the last parliament. This challenge of political management will be further complicated by the imminent prospect of the Brazilian economy tipping into recession and remaining there for some considerable time.

Commitment to progressive politics