Tomorrow Decides Brazil’s Next 4 years

Tomorrow’s the second and final round of the presidential election and no one is holding their breath. Dilma Rouseff is poised to win, buoyed almost wholly by disproportionate popularity in the North-east of the country. A northeasterner himself, Lula has tremendous pull in this area. The PT’s popularity also owes much to the expansive success of a government program of conditional-cash-transfers, Bolsa Familia (send kids to school, receive cash from government). Meanwhile, the south and southeast of the country is expected to vote disproportionately for José Serra, by far the more proven administrator of the two. For what it’s worth, both candidates appear to be sincerely concerned about Brazil.

What is most worrisome about the election are not the candidates, but instead the balance of power. If Serra wins, he will have to move quickly to steal the PMDB from the PT, and even then he will be looking at a difficult legislature. If Dilma takes the prize, it will be the third consecutive term for a PT president and the third time the PT enjoys an assured majority. There will also be sufficient votes for the PT and its allies to change the constitution, if they can agree to do so.

As I wrote in a recent newspaper editorial, governments that remain in power tend to become less accountable, especially ones with strong legislative control. Simply put, parties that remain in power election after election become more adept at co-opting powerful actors, whether they be the press, other parts of government, or even the opposition. The tradeoff—continuity for diminished accountability—can be a fair one, but it need be considered conscientiously. This has not occurred; the media has shed scant light on the issue of accountability during this election campaign.

The lack of substantive coverage on issues of accountability, particularly prospective reforms, is extremely peculiar. Right now I’m reading a Brazilian Classic, translated loosely as History of Brazilian Foreign Policy. I am amazed at how the same themes appear over and over again, especially the “quest for development” and accusations by foreign “interventionist” governments that Brazil’s root problem is bad governance and corruption. This accusation was typically rebuffed by alleging that the U.S. and its “imperialist” policies fostered dependence and generated bad government by directly or indirectly interfering in politics. Brazil can no longer fall back on these excuses, and indeed, bad government is undeniably a problem— just ask a Brazilian. I’ll be working to address this issue in the coming years, whether by teaching or creating greater awareness surrounding the need for transparency reform. An immediate focus is the freedom of information bill currently awaiting final approval in the Senate.

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