BRAZIL: Initial Thoughts on the Meaning of the First Round of the Presidential Elections

By Jean-Pierre Raffi
(excerpted from issue No. 159 of Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune, weekly newspaper of the Democratic Independent Workers Party of France, POID)
The first round of the presidential election on October 7 placed fascist-leaning far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the lead with 46.06% of the votes, ahead of Fernando Haddad, the candidate of the Workers Party (PT), with 29.24% of the votes [1]. Meanwhile, 20.32% of voters did not go to the polls.[2] In addition, 6.14% of the votes were invalid and 2.65% were blank. What this means is that close to 30% of the electorate did not vote for any of the candidates.
Brazil Vote TalliesThus, in three terms of office under a PT administration (Lula 1, Lula 2, then Dilma Rousseff), between 2002 and 2018 the PT lost more than 8 million votes [3].
How did it come to this?
A large number of workers, PT activists, and youth asked themselves anxiously this very question on the eve of the first round of the presidential election. They knew that this election was marred by the false imprisonment (based on trumped-up charges) that prevented Lula, the candidate chosen by PT activists, from running for president. They knew that the PT leadership had given up the fight-to-the finish against this fraudulent election, to the point of accepting the diktat of imperialism that prevented the Brazilian people from choosing the candidate of their choice.
But how did this electoral result — this loss of 8 million PT votes — come about for a party “born of the desire for political independence of workers tired of serving as a servile mass at the disposal of politicians and parties determined to maintain the current economic, social, and political order?” (excerpted from founding PT Manifesto, February 10, 1980)
This question cannot be answered if we do not take into account what the PT did and did not do during the 13 years it was at the helm of State.
Here is what the three PT administrations did not do:
– They did not dismantle the institutions inherited from the military dictatorship of the 1960s and ’70s (Supreme Court and entire court system, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Army, Military Police, etc.), all of which encouraged and enabled the coup d’état that drove Dilma Rousseff from power.
– They did not convene the Constituent Assembly to put an end to these reactionary institutions [4].
– They did not carry out the Agrarian Reform, which would have provided land and a proper livelihood to millions of landless peasants, allowing instead the henchmen of the big landowners to go unpunished in the deaths of thousands of activists in the Landless Peasants Movement (MST). 
– They did not oppose, let alone reverse, any of the privatization measures initiated by the Cardoso government, thus depriving the Brazilian people and nation of a major part of their wealth and sovereignty. These measures, begun under Cardoso, had sold off to private interests almost all the State banks (Banestado, Banespa, Banerj), energy corporations (Electropol), telephone companies, roadways, and railways. At the same time, contracts for drilling and refining oil, particularly in the deep-sea waters (or pre-sal), were awarded to the major international oil corporations.
– Finally, and this is perhaps more emblematic than anything else, the PT administrations of Lula and Dilma Rousseff refused to renationalize the Vale do Rio Doce — the consortium that owned the near totality of Brazil’s formidable mining reserves) — which had been privatized by Cardoso.
What did the PT administrations do instead:
– They continued the ransacking of the Previdência — the public healthcare, social security and retirement/pension funds.
– They scrupulously paid back to foreign interests the foreign debt, implementing a federal law (superavit fiscal) that apportioned a percentage of debt repayment to state and municipal governments, thereby emptying the coffers of these regional bodies and preventing them from funding the social services demanded by the workers and popular sectors.
– They pursued a policy of seeking and establishing political and electoral alliances with wings of the bourgeoisie’s own political parties. It should be recalled that the leader of the coup that removed Dilma Rousseff from office was none other than Michel Temer, Dilma’s vice presidential running-mate and later vice president. 
Indeed, it was the entire array of policy decisions by the three PT administrations, combined with the refusal by the PT leadership to fight fraud head-on, that led 8 million voters to detach themselves from the PT. All these decisions by the PT leadership turned their backs on the most pressing aspirations and needs of the workers, activists, landless peasants, and youth throughout Brazil. 
It is a fact that Haddad lost the vote to Bolsonaro in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, the working class city that was the birthplace of the PT.
At the same time, it is clear that a large sector of the working class and youth look on with horror at the possibility that an extreme right-winger who is nostalgic for the military dictatorship could soon become the head of State.
Many, no doubt, will mobilize in the second round in a “what-else-can-we-do” vote for the PT candidate to block the road to Bolsonaro, who is the candidate of continuity with the putsch against Dilma and Lula, and of the intense fiscal adjustment policies implemented by the current president, the putschist Michel Temer.
It is clear that combating this extreme reactionary force requires breaking with the policies that the bankers and capitalists seek to impose; it requires implementing policies, not of accommodation, but ones that respond positively to the demands of the working-class majority, the youth, and all the oppressed.


[1] Source: Supreme Electoral Tribunal, published by Reuters. Both Bolsonaro and Haddad now face each other in the second round of the presidential election on October 28.
[2] A 20% abstention rate may not seem high in a country like the United States, where abstentions often hover around 50%. But in Brazil voting is compulsory (with heavy penalties for not voting) for those between 17 and 70 years of age. 
[3] In 2002, Lula obtained 39.46 million votes, whereas Haddad on October 7 only obtained 31.25 million votes, hence a loss of more than 8 million votes.
[4] On September 1-7, 2013, the PT, the CUT trade union federation, the Landless Peasants Movement (MST), and the United Students Union (UNE) convened a non-binding Popular Referendum for a Constituent Assembly. More than 100,000 activists mobilized at 40,000 polling booths across Brazil and recorded the vote of more than 11 million people in favor of a Constituent Assembly to break with all the institutional vestiges inherited from the military dictatorship. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court ruled that any binding vote by the government or Congress in favor of a Constituent Assembly would be ruled “unconstitutional.”
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