Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Elections will be held in October 2014 throughout Brazil, with contenders for federal Congress, Senate and President. Although that seems like quite a distance away, it is more than clear that the Presidential campaign has already started. There are four quasi-declared candidates, and one undeclared candidate. The Curmudgeon believes this undeclared candidate is most likely to win.
Pollsters have begun to sample public opinion, and the front-runner for President is the incumbent Dilma Rousseff. The other frequently mentioned candidates are Aécio Neves, Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva. But some polls have recently begun to include another candidate, who denies he’s a candidate at all.
The (non)candidate in denial is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula, Brazil’s President from 2002 to 2010. As Brazil’s 1988 Constitution prohibits Presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms, he could not run in 2010. In 2014, having been out of office for one full term, he will be again eligible for the Presidency.
The Curmudgeon has often stated that Lula’s strategy in 2010 was to have Dilma be a one-term president, so that he could step in four years later and re-assume what he regards as his rightful place.
First, Lula left a political mess behind him, principally the “mensalão” scandal where a number of his chief lieutenants were convicted by the Supreme Court of having bought politicians and others. However, just as the Irangate scandal never adversely affected Ronald Reagan’s popularity as President (he seemed to be “Teflon coated”), the Mensalão scandal has not adversely affected Lula’s popularity.
Second, Lula left a potential economic mess behind him, in that his expansionist programs to aid the poor would, he knew, eventually cause inflation to rise and the economy to stall. Unsurprisingly, that is what is happening right now, during Dilma’s reign, but she refuses to acknowledge that the fault was the policies of her predecessor.
Third, Lula was a consummate politico, able to convince other politicos to stick by him, even if their parties were occasional adversaries. That was how he could cobble together a coalition of a dozen political parties. He knew full well in 2010 that Dilma simply did not have that skill—among other things, she has great difficulty keeping her temper on a short leash.
Fourth, Lula knew that he is the main reason Brazil was able to get the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. He also knew in 2010 that the 2014 election would be held a few months after the World Cup tournament, and that all Brazilians who are football fans (meaning 99 percent of the population) will be regularly reminded of his achievement.
Today, Lula sees most of his assumptions coming true. The Mensalão scandal tarnishes Lula’s party PT, but not Lula. The return of high inflation and low economic growth tarnish Dilma but not Lula. The multi-party coalition shows signs of breaking down, and Dilma seems unable to stop the rot. Dilma’s popularity is diminishing. In 2014, the time will be ripe for Lula to step back in and lead Brazil back to popular prosperity.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)