October 13th, 2010

Results of the Brazilian Presidential election, first round on October 3:
Dilma Rousseff ……46.91% (goes to run-off)
José Serra …………32.61% (goes to run-off)
Marina Silva……….19.33% (no endorsement yet for the runoff)
Others……………..1.15% (includes vanishing sentimental hard-left voters)
Total valid votes 101,590,153

This is all much as expected. Dilma´s vote was 2% or so down on the last polls of voting intentions , and Marina as much up. The gap was bigger on pure preferences; but Dilms already faced a 2% enthusiasm gap betwen these and voting intentions. It looks as if this gap widened. A lot of voters were undecided up to the very end: 6% according to Datafolha´s last national poll on September 28/29. Marina Silva actually beat Serra into third place in Rio de Janeiro state. The pólls were spot on (within 1%) for the Rio state governorship.

It´s a quite good result IMHO. Brazil´s main problems – inequality, lousy infrastructure, deforestation, poor education compared to other BRICs – require more government rather than less. Dilma has had a warning rather than a plebiscite, and cannot ignore the greening of the electorate. Sustainability is the new soundbite. Also it´s not a result that lends comfort to conspiracy theories of massive ballot-rigging by le pouvoir, which the paperless system encourages.

Without Silva´s dignified presence, the tone of the runoff election has deteriorated sharply into soundbites to show who is more personally against abortion, and mudslinging over sleaze. I can´t figure out what Serra, far the more experienced campaigner, thinks he is up to. To have a fighting chance, he has to (a) convince all of Silva´s electors that he´s serious about the Amazon and climate change, (b) convince some of Dilma´s electors that he won´t touch their bolsa familia and will direct a lot of the prospective oil wealth their way through infrastructure in the poor regions. He doesn´t appear to be trying and merely getting out the conservative base will not give him a chance.

Mind you, the sleaze charges against Dilma are pretty convincing. Erenice Guerra, her previous right-hand woman and successor as Lula´s chief of staff, had to resign last month in an influence-peddling scandal. Dilma and Lula are shocked, shocked. The structural incentives – the party of the poor always has a harder time financing itself than the party of the rich, its leaders are personally less wealthy – don´t help: I guess the money corruption of the left tends to take more illegal forms than that of the right (see Blair, Mitterand). Dilma´s attitude and recent career as a machine politician mean that we can expect lots more of the same during her mandate.

The Venezuelan parliamentary elections on 26 September were more interesting really. Against the odds and a barrage by Chavez´ tame media, the opposition to Chavez almost tied the popular vote (47.17% to Chavez´48.20%). International observers weren´t allowed in, so the opposition may have got a majority in fact. Chavez´party still has a large working majority in parliament, but not the two-thirds needed for constitutional amendments. The revolution has stalled, though the opposition will have a very hard time of it.

The opposition is interesting as well as brave. It´s a coalition of opposition parties of all shades, from left-of-Chavez to old-style conservatives. The language of the name – Mesa de la Unidad Democrática – comes straight from the Polish Solidarność of the 1980s. Solidarity was legally a trade union, but the broad umbrella approach is similar. As its leaders expected, after 1989 Solidarity disintegrated as a national movement into normal parties, though it survives as a trades union. MUD even held primaries to select candidates from any party with a winning chance.

Both Brazilian and Venezuelan electors are acting entirely rationally. Brazilians are voting for continuity, as things are going pretty well, Venezuelans for change, as they are going very badly. Even Caracas favelas are no longer safe fiefs for Chavez. Is only the American electorate incapable of understanding its own self-interest, and identifying those responsible for its condition?

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8 Responses to “Two elections in Latin America”

  1. Joe S. says:

    “Is only the American electoral incapable of understanding its own self-interest, and identifying those responsible for its condition?”

    No. Look at the Israeli electorate.

    This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

  2. Randy Paul says:

    I think that the result also shows again that Lula remains a far bigger presence in Brazil than the PT.

    On Lula and the environment, I believe that Marina Silva’s entire candidacy was motivated by his failure in that area, especially with regard to the dams on the Rio Madeira. Aside from the environmental issues, the emphasis on hydroelectric power in the long run is bad for Brazil.

    My wife and I plan to move there in 2012, to a community just outside Vila Velha, Espirito Santo. I’m looking to find a way to bring solar panels with me.

  3. (James W.): “Brazil´s main problems – inequality, lousy infrastructure, deforestation, poor education compared to other BRICs – require more government rather than less.
    I can see a role for the government in environmental protection, although logging of tropical hardwoods proceeds in declared preserves in S.E. Asia. I can see a role for government in transportation infrastructure, although highway and mass transit projects in the US are notorious for cost overruns and favoritism. I do not see why people suppose that the dominant violence distributor in a locality (the State) can be trusted to reduce inequality. I see considerable evidence that the goons with the guns (the State) have nothing useful to contrtibute to the education industry beyond what they contribute to service industries generally in a market economy.

  4. dave schutz says:

    “.. Is only the American electorate incapable of understanding its own self-interest, and identifying those responsible for its condition?..” You’re being remarkably patronizing. Something like a third of the electorate regards abortion as murder. I don’t, my best guess is you don’t. But if you believe that, it’s almost impossible to justify voting for the Dems. A very large number of people regard affirmative action as damaging and unfair – enough that referenda to ban it have done very well and often passed. The Reeps are clearly less enamored of affirmative action than the Dems (although affirmative action has done them a great deal of electoral favor, as majority-black districts have been constructed leaving majority-Republican districts behind them).
    I’m not saying these are positive positions – but if you hold them, Reep is the way to vote. People do have a good sense of who is pushing policies they want. You do better by trying to talk them out of their positions than by describing them as fools and tools.

  5. James Wimberley says:

    Joes S: Touché, up to a point. I´s agree with you that from outside, the Israeli electorate looks vey misguided. But from inside, the argument ¨The Arabs hate us and all they understand is force¨ must be attractive. It takes exceptional leadership – Gandhi, Mandela, King – to persuade a whole people of section that magnanimity is prudent as well as right. Since Rabin´s murder, such leadership has been scarce in Israel. On the other aspect, who´s responsible for the mess, the list of suspects is long indeed. Sykes and Picot in the chancery with a pen?

    Randy Paul: Brazil is a huge middle-income country with a diversified industrial sector. Google ¨solar energy Brazil¨ and you will find local suppliers; there will be many more in 2012.

    dave schutz: I don´t describe American electors as ¨fools and tools¨; these are your words. I simply don´t understand them. You say voters prefer Republicans on abortion and affirmative action, on neither of which the GOP has a comprehensible policy position or any prospect of enacting policies bearing any relation to the mood music – Al Franken´s Kansas point. On the other hand, Republicans in the White House and Congress are clearly responsible for the recession, most of the structural deficit, the GWOT, and failing to tackle the housing and housing finance bubbles. All the Republican proposals on these would make things much worse. GOP obstruction is also largely responsible for the slowness of the recovery, as without it the stimulus would have been bigger: perhaps an arguable and technical point, and blame is shared here. Republican ideas on health reform amount to pure sabotage.
    Incidentally, I do not believe your claim that a significant proportion of the US electorate, or even the conservative electorate really believes that abortion is murder. Where are the state bills introducing the death penalty? ¨Abortion is bad, murder is bad, therefore abortion is murder.¨ You can´t get away with this sort of nonsense in the Rio slums.

    Malcolm Kirkpatrick: I invite you to read my link on the bolsa familia, the Brazilian government´s actual anti-poverty programme. Governments don´t necessarily reduce inequality, even nominally socialist ones, but quite a number do, from South Korea to Norway, and nothing else works.

  6. “Anti-poverty” and “reduce inequality” overlap only somewhat. “Anti-poverty” implies establishing a floor under real income. No ceiling is implied. One could reduce material inequality by imposing a ceiling or establishing a floor. The choice between the laissez faire anti-poverty policy (leave charity to non-State actors) and the socialist anti-poverty policy (mandate a floor on income) turns on free rider (public goods) considerations, moral hazard considerations, and cultural, empirical issues. Here, it is not the case that “nothing else works” beside socialism.

    The imperative to establish a ceiling on wealth and income springs from an unrealistic view of the motives if State actors, seems to me.

  7. Randy Paul says:

    Brazil is a huge middle-income country with a diversified industrial sector.

    That I know and appreciate the heads up, but my concern is more with the cost, given the ever declining dollar.

    That being said, what annoys me on the issue is the lack of support on the governmental level. The sertao in places like Pernambuco, Piaui, Bahia and Ceara would be great locations for solar farms. Instead, they want to build more destructive dams in Para.

  8. Buck says:

    Judging from many European polls, particularly the French, Americans are NOT the only ones who blame the wrong people for their condition. The difference is that Americans cannot legally blame the people that many Europeans choose to blame.

    Sorry about the very late post in the thread–I was preoccupied with other things and have not visited this blog in close to a week.