The Race is On: 2018 Electoral Landscape Starts to Take Shape in Brazil | Wilson Center
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The Race is On: 2018 Electoral Landscape Starts to Take Shape in Brazil

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Webcast Recap

It is six months out from perhaps the most consequential election since Brazil's return to democracy and just days after would-be candidate and former President Lula began serving a 12-year jail term. The April 7 deadline for prospective presidential candidates to affiliate with a political party and resign from their current executive positions also helps to define an electoral landscape that has been unusually difficult to predict. Although opinion polls at this early stage often tell us little about an election's eventual outcome, the field of contenders is beginning to take shape and will soon provide the first real indications of where this race could be headed. 

This conversation with leading political analysts is the third event of the year in the Brazil Institute series covering the 2018 elections.


Selected Quotes


Paulo Sotero

“People in Brazil are not inventing stuff. [The corruption scandal involving former President Lula] did happen. PetroBras, the largest company in Brazil, was assaulted by a group of private companies, and there was a coalition of political parties that facilitated that assault. There is evidence, and this is why Brazilians are very alert to all of this.”

“Former President Lula is the first former president accused or found guilty of a common crime. In the history of Brazil, there are four former presidents that were incarcerated… You can imagine what the commotion is in Brazil. The psychological impact is huge… I think the masses have not risen in protest. There are localized events [with] supporters of the former president [and] members of the parties on the left. It’s a very complex scenario.”

“The problems that [Brazil] faces, the fiscal problems, they are not going to go away on the thirty-first of December. The fiscal problem is massive. The social security problem is urgent, and you could see people in Brazil — retirees, 30 million retirees, from private companies — experiencing what retirees of the State of Rio’s system have now experienced. They get their pension one month and then they don’t get their pension the following two months because there is no money in the treasury of that state.”

David Fleischer

“In addition to the PT, there are 14 other political parties whose members are accused in the Lava Jato investigation – so it’s not just the PT. The PMDB has the second largest number of accused, and as you probably know, our current president, Michel Temer, has had two major formal accusations lodged by the chief prosecutor and probably a third may be coming forth in the coming months. So we have to remember that the accusations by the Lava Jato include a total of 14 parties.”

“Usually, foreign policy is not a big part of Brazilian presidential campaigns. The trade [question] depends on how bad the trade war gets between Trump and China and how that’s going to affect Brazil negatively or positively. In terms of soybeans, it might actually favor Brazil, [while] in terms of steel, perhaps not. We’re not sure.”

Christopher Garman

“The court is sensitive to the fact... if they were to reverse the appeal ruling just within the same week that [former President Lula] was imprisoned, it would be seen as kowtowing to political pressure. I think what’s more likely to happen is that the dust will probably settle and then the court at some future date – months, at least, down the road – may reverse that ruling, although it’s very hard to call in terms of timing when that could happen.”

“Evidently, we’re in a highly fragmented field. We’re six months away from the race, so it’s hard to put probabilities in terms of individual candidates' winning… What we have tried to do is talk about [the] odds of different types of candidates' running with different electoral appeals.” 

“If you look at the metrics of the degree to which voters are disenchanted with the political establishment, with political institutions, and with existing leadership, what we’re seeing is that the levels of disenchantment in Brazil are running as deep — or actually deeper — than the same metrics we were registering prior to the election of Donald Trump in the United States and prior to the Brexit referendum in the UK.”

Mauricio Moura

“We have been studying the Lula voters – the Lula core voters – very closely... This weekend, we ran a survey, interviewed about 2,000 Lula voters internationally, and 85 percent for the first time think that he will not be a candidate. For months, we were talking to these people and they still had the hope Lula would be the candidate. They didn’t fully understand what was going on, but after what happened over the weekend, for the first time those voters are now going to be active, looking for other options.”

“One lesson that we learned in 2016… was that especially the candidates related to evangelical churches – they had a lot of funding from individuals, especially people that, instead of donating to the church… they were donating directly to the candidate. And of course, on a more illegal basis, there is a lot of organized crime that is funding individuals to fund candidates, and I don’t think that this is going to change compared to 2016.”

“The blank, the ‘no’ vote, and abstentions – they won the election of the city of Sao Paulo, they won the election last year in Amazon, and they won the election in Rio. So those groups of voters that don’t vote at all, that don’t show up, and [who] do the ‘no’ vote, they are growing. However, we are seeing in our surveys that those people can be open to vote for an outsider.”

Ricardo Sennes

“I think we have a major disenchantment environment in Brazil… But at the same time, I think that life must go on. The people in Brazil are considered to have very concrete interests. We have to keep in mind that the last twenty years of time have promoted a massive middle class in the sense that the people have already experienced some kind of benefit from the markets, they have been accessing housing programs [and] education programs… In our perception, it’s not easy to think that the people will just forget the concrete interests that they have or a very hard life they would have to resume in Brazil.”

“The level of fragmentation of the center [and] center-right – I think this is the question that we need to address in order to forecast who will be the second candidate in the runoff that will be with the left candidate… My point is, the only way to escape from fragmentation is building a coalition. I think [this is] the only way of trying to reduce the risk of having seven candidates from the right, center-right, and center.”