November 15, 2002

The Center for Latin American Issues
"Brazil: Elections 2002"
A Symposium


      On October 27, Brazilians elected Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva to be their new president. The first Labor party president in the history of Brazil, Lula won with 62% of the valid votes. On Friday, November 15, GW’s Institute for Brazilian Issues hosted a symposium to discuss the meaning of the elections and challenges that lie ahead for the Brazilian government. In this unique forum, five congressmen from five different parties presented their views. Participating in the session were: Congressman José Carlos Aleluia (PFL); Congresswoman Yeda Crusius (PSDB); Congressman Nelson Pellegrino (PT); Congressman Nelson Proença (PPS); and Congressman Júlio Redecker (PPB).

Dr. James Ferrer introduces the congressmen

The Panel

All of the congressmen agreed that the recent elections, which included races at the national, state and local levels, represented a critical and successful demonstration of a well-functioning democratic system at work in Brazil. Congressman Nelson Proença noted that, in spite of the traumatic history of leftist parties taking over in Latin America, the PT is well positioned to take power with no rupture in the democratic system. Lula has worked closely with the Cardoso government to ensure a smooth transition.

The PT’s congressional representation falls far short of a majority, and it cannot govern by itself. One of Lula’s most important tasks, then, will be to forge coalitions in order to govern effectively. However, Lula is a highly skillful negotiator and should be able to create alliances, noted Congressman José Carlos Aleluia. The PFL, Aleluia said, would offer a constructive opposition to Lula, but other parties might not be so disposed. Aleluia believes that the PSDB will “sign its own death warrant” if it aligns with Lula.

Congressman José Carlos Aleluia – PFL

The Audience

Pellegrino stated that the PT rejects the neoliberal agenda, and that it would pursue an alternative agenda. He stressed, however, that the party is committed to economic stability and that its policies will consciously seek to avoid sudden changes. The PT will not move backwards in what has been developed democratically, he said, and will work through democratic institutions to promote change. The PT will honor all contracts, and will promote fiscally responsible policies, as PT governments at the state and local levels have proven. The PT is not likely to continue the privatization efforts that were an important part of Cardoso’s reform efforts, but the PT will not reverse those privatizations that have already taken place. The state will also continue to build public/private partnerships, for example, to make electricity production and distribution more efficient.

The PSDB seems willing to support Lula, said Congresswoman Yeda Crusius. She pointed out that there are substantial similarities between Lula and President Cardoso. Lula has moved toward the political center and will essentially follow the same lines as Cardoso. She believes the Lula administration will be fiscally responsible.

Proença stated that the government appears to have support from a broad sector of Brazilian society, and that fact should contribute to stability after Lula takes office on January 1. Proença noted that, in addition to the traditional PT stronghold in the labor movement, Lula has considerable support in the business community, and that the media (in Brazil and internationally) are watching the situation and supporting a smooth transition. He stressed that the PT has firm democratic roots, and has nothing in common with Castro or Chávez. Moreover, Brazil depends too heavily on foreign capital, technology and trade to close its economy.

Congressman Nelson Proença – PPS

Congressman Nelson Pellegrino – PT

Congressman Nelson Pellegrino also emphasized the need for various parties to find common ground in order to move forward. In order to effectively develop consensus, he said that the PT would work to create an open network with workers and business. The PT has proposed the creation of a National Development Council, which will bring businesses, workers, and civil society together to discuss items for reform in Brazil. By the time these proposals reach the National Congress, a broad consensus will have been formed.

Congressman Júlio Redecker agreed that the PT is not the same party it has been in the past. Instead, Lula represents the new brand of modern Brazilian opposition. Where the left used to be intransigent, Lula has learned from economic mistakes of the past. As a result, he doesn’t try to please all leftist radicals and is more likely to build policy consensus.

The panelists discussed several critical policy challenges for the Lula administration. First and foremost seems to be the need to reform the social security system, which absorbs a disproportionately large share of government resources. Another of the President’s challenges will be to overcome the PT’s lack of presence at the state level. While voters elected a PT candidate to the presidency, they elected only three PT governors, and those are in small states. This will increase pressure on Lula to give states more control over their budgets, but this control may be difficult to wrest from congress. The strongest opponents to Lula, noted Aleluia, may come from radical elements within Lula’s own party, which may feel that the PT has abandoned its traditional policies and political base. Indeed, one audience member from the PT strongly questioned Lula’s commitment to labor organizations.

Congressman Júlio Redecker – PPB

Congresswoman Yeda Crusius – PSDB

Crusius discussed the recent history of economic and political reform in Brazil, noting how the popularity of Lula’s message has grown because of current political and economic trends. The ‘shock’ plans of the 1980’s failed to end inflation and to increase production. By the mid 1990’s, these plans gave way to a plan that maintained economic responsibilities while building a stronger network of social protection. In this respect, Lula’s emphasis on developing social programs has recent precedent and should be seen as an aspect of continuity. In other words, Crusius emphasized the incorrectness of the belief that Lula’s election would lead to a rupture in either representative democracy or in economic stability in Brazil.

Redecker pointed out that “the neo-liberal model is not part of the PT dialogue,” but Lula seems to adhere to many of its tenets. He recognizes the need to maintain economic discipline, to preserve democratic values, and to fulfill social needs. The PPB, noted Redecker, is split on how best to contribute to the future of Brazil. The party wants to support responsible change without obstructing the process of reform. For example, the PPB will not support fiscal reform that increases taxes. He proposed the creation of an autonomous institution to evaluate the use of public funds.