Brazilian Politics Updates
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Dreadful at the prospect of a bitter election battle next year between two aging ex-presidents with divisive rhetoric and checkered records, many Brazilians are looking for an alternative.
Eduardo Leite thinks it’s the answer.
The 36-year-old leader of the Rio Grande do Sul state made headlines in July when he emerged as the country’s first gay governor. This was a brave move, given far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic boast and his earlier statements that Brazil “does not like homosexuals”. But Leyte told the Financial Times that the reaction to his announcement proved the president wrong.
“I received a huge welcome, expressions of a lot of respect and I’m glad the country is changing despite the president’s leadership,” he said in an interview with Zoom. “People accept and respect [my sexuality]”.
Light’s political career began in his hometown of Pelotas as a city councillor at the age of 23. Four years later he won the election as mayor and in 2018 won the governor’s race. He ran under the banner of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB), the center-right grouping that held the presidency from 1995-2002 but has since been overshadowed by political extremism.
“Light is a really exciting guy with a track record,” said Oliver Stoenkel, professor of political science at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “He is young so he can symbolize renewal and he is the dream candidate of the economic/liberal elite. But his Achilles heel is that he did not clearly oppose Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections…this will make it difficult for him to reach people who are from the center-left and the left” .
Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, faces huge challenges as it recovers from the human and economic devastation of the coronavirus. More than 585,000 people have died and the numbers of the poor and the unemployed have risen, prompting calls for increased social spending and fairer taxation.
Bolsonaro wants a second term, but the combination of the far-right with the pandemic, his fierce attacks on democratic institutions and missteps in the economy have combined to send his ratings down.
Former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva will make a sixth bid for the presidency at the age of 75. Polls show he’s on top, but many Brazilians still associate him with the widespread corruption exposed in the car wash investigation – Latin America’s largest bribery scandal.
Before joining the battle with these two political giants, Light must overcome a number of obstacles.
The first is winning the PSDB’s presidential nomination. The party is divided over how to respond to Bolsonaro, and São Paulo’s governor, João Doria, a prominent national figure in São Paulo, is unlikely to abandon his presidential ambitions despite lower polling numbers.
Leight must then win enough votes in the first round of the presidential election to force a run-off. With just over a year left, the latest polls show Lula close to achieving a first-round knockout, with a support of 40 percent.
Another drawback is that Leite is nowhere near recognizing the name Lula or Bolsonaro. “This is a classic challenge for outside candidates,” Stoenkel said. “That’s why parties have always liked to attract well-known people, like sports stars or TV presenters.”
The governor insists that high levels of disapproval toward Lula and Bolsonaro present an ideal scenario for a “third way” candidate. It is also true that Brazil can produce political surprises: Bolsonaro was little known when he launched his bid for the presidency and few imagined his chances.
Opinion polls show that current support for Leite among voters, like most supposed “third way” candidates, remains low in the double digits — but that could change quickly once campaigning begins.
Leite says he will work on his record in Rio Grande do Sul, a mainly agricultural southern state on the border with Argentina and Uruguay, as he has tried to balance budgets, cut bloated public sector pensions and privatize government facilities, although he also acknowledges the need for a fairer society.
“Brazil has a huge opportunity for economic growth and overcoming its challenges,” he says. It’s not easy, we have a country with huge inequality in society, economy and opportunity. . . But it is possible to quickly go down a different path.”
He explains that the key is to calm the tensions that Bolsonaro has sparked by opening up dialogue and stabilizing the country to encourage investment. This approach made him friends among the Brazilian liberals and its business community.
Former central bank chief Armenio describes Fraga Leyte as “very impressive”. If he wins his party’s nomination, “I think he would surprise people. I think Brazilians are tired of all the crazy things and it would be refreshing to have something different that feels ingrained.”
What’s hard to see is whether Leyte’s unabashed support of a liberal free-market economic agenda — and his vote for Bolsonaro in the second round of the 2018 election, which he now calls a mistake — will win voters worried about rising inflation. and high unemployment rate.
Federal lawmaker Bruno Gass of Lula’s Labor Party has refused to talk about the “Third Way” candidate. “All those who want to present themselves as a ‘third way’ agree with Bolsonaro’s economic agenda,” he said. “Eduardo Leite is a classic example.”