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The Presidential Elections of Brazil: Politics in a Society of Privileges

Reproduzo abaixo artigo que escrevi sobre a eleição presidencial brasileira, publicado na edição de outono de 2010 da Newsletter of the Program of Latin American Studies da Johns Hopkins University (acesse aqui).

The presidential elections of Brazil: politics in a society of privileges

Felipe Amin Filomeno (*)

On October 31st Brazilians elected Dilma Rousseff as their new president. Dilma was supported by current president Lula and the Workers’ Party, wining the elections over opposition leader José Serra, who represented a right-wing alliance of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy with the Democrats Party. The personal charisma of president Lula, a more independent foreign policy that has raised the international prestige of the country and, most importantly, economic growth and wealth distribution fostered by social policies explain the wide popular support received by the eight-year long administration of the Workers’ Party and its recent electoral victory.

Given this prosperous moment of Brazilian history, opposition leaders linked to former president Cardoso have not risked attacking the economic and social policies of the current administration and presented themselves as “pos-Lula” instead of “anti-Lula”. They also tried to attribute Lula’s success to Cardoso’s legacy, which is partially true but still implies an acceptance of Lula’s good performance, resulting in a weak opposition strategy. In the absence of a coherent discourse focused on policies, the opposition was left with reactionary means that for long have been deployed by Brazilian elites whenever their privileges are under risk.

Accusations of corruption against the Workers’ Party have been magnified by the large media as if this was the distinctive feature of the current administration instead of a long term practice embedded in the Brazilian state, one that has for centuries served the privileges of the elites. Furthermore, Dilma was accused by the opposition of having connections to the Colombian FARCs, Hugo Chávez and radical sectors of the Worker’s Party, in the same type of ideological terrorism used in previous elections, when the conservative propaganda held that Lula, then a presidential candidate, would turn Brazil into another Cuba. At last, in the election run-off, religious themes were brought to the debate, with allegations that Dilma was pro-abortion.

Moreover, among elites and conservative sectors of the middle classes, social policies of President Lula, which are highly acclaimed in international forums, have been accused of deviance from a meritocratic society where class position is explained by personal effort and where affirmative social policies are not needed, a perspective very symbolic of the class prejudice embedded in the imaginary and discourse of Brazilian elites. As the election results show, however, the conservative propaganda was not able to make people ignore that now they have more jobs, better wages and are not as hungry and uninstructed as they were a decade ago.

(*) Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Sociology of the Johns Hopkins University, Fulbright/CAPES Scholar.

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