Brazil’s PT in Final Campaign Thrust

Fabiana Frayssinet

HAVANA TIMES, Oct 27  (IPS) — Every vote counts for the two candidates competing for the presidency of Brazil in next Sunday’s runoff, and the governing Workers’ Party (PT) is galvanizing its electoral base into active campaigning, after the complacency instilled by eight years in power.

Following advice to display less of the color red that is their party’s trademark, the PT supporters who voted President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva into power in 2002 have left their armchairs in droves to campaign for their candidate, Dilma Rousseff.

According to analysts, PT militants and voters want to ensure the continuity of gains made during Lula’s two consecutive administrations, such as economic growth, social inclusion and Brazil’s role as an independent leader on the international stage.

The people participating in her campaign now did not necessarily vote for Rousseff in the first round of the elections on Oct. 3, nor do they all identify with the left. But they are joining forces to prevent a victory by the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and its candidate, José Serra, which in their view would be a political step backwards.

The wave of rallies in support of Rousseff blend culture and politics. On Sunday Oct. 24 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, the organizers made use of carnival — one of Brazil’s most popular and beloved symbols — to attract people.

“Dilma’s Samba School” paraded with its drum corps in support of the candidate, who won 47 percent of the vote in the first round, against 33 percent for Serra. In the polls, Rousseff now has 50 percent support, compared to her rival’s 40 percent.

“I’m Dilma’s flag-bearer,” Maria Helena of the Imperatriz samba school told IPS with evident pride. She carries the colors of her group, an ensemble with one of the richest and most vibrant histories in Rio carnival.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone care about the poor,” she said about Lula, whose popularity rating stands at 80 percent after two terms of office. He will step down as president on Jan. 1, 2011.

“With Lula the Brazilian people, especially the poor, had some unique opportunities. Income distribution really did happen,” said Sonia, a teacher, one of hundreds of Rousseff supporters enjoying the election rally-cum-carnival performance.

Spearheading the unusual carnival-style parade was a group of well-known PT political figures, like reelected state lawmaker and former environment minister in Lula’s government, Carlos Minc.

While dancing to the irresistible rhythms of “Dilma’s Samba School”, Minc said he supports the PT candidate because she is the one who can implement green policies to protect the environment.

At a theatre in Rio, sociologist Emir Sader coordinated another of the innumerable events organized by the PT to mobilize its traditional supporters, who have multiplied in number since polls began to show a narrowing of the gap between the candidates, generating uncertainty about Rousseff’s victory which had previously been taken for granted.

PT political figures and prominent intellectuals, religious leaders and artists shared the platform to back Rousseff. What is needed is “a country where education, culture, sustainability and the eradication of extreme poverty and social inequality are the priorities,” and where “the dignity we have recovered is preserved,” the organizers said.

Singer-songwriter Chico Buarque stole the show, to warm applause, in support of Rousseff, who was seated beside him and other legends of the Brazilian left, such as centenarian Oscar Niemayer, the architect of Brasilia, the country’s capital.

“Lula did not lower his voice to a whisper for the United States, and he did not shout at Bolivia and Paraguay,” said Buarque, calling for this style of foreign policy to be maintained.

One of the fathers of liberation theology, Leonardo Boff, who heads a religious group in support of Rousseff’s candidacy, praised Lula’s “revolution without violence” which, he said, met a large proportion of the needs of the poor.

“The dominant classes cannot bear to see a son of poverty, a survivor of Brazil’s troubles, come up from below and become president,” he said before an enthusiastic audience that waved flags and shouted political slogans.

“In their view, a simple laborer like Lula (a former metal worker) belongs in the factory, working for them. The presidency is an office reserved for their kind,” said Boff, referring to the electoral and social sector represented by Serra.

Also present at the event was another leader of the social struggles in Brazil that cemented the foundations of the PT, the head of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), Joao Pedro Stédile.

“Our position is not monolithic,” he told IPS. “It is a collective stance, shaped by discussion with the country’s main social movements, and we reserve the right to criticize Lula’s government over bad policies. We maintain a healthy autonomy.”

Along with other small farmer, student, trade union and women’s organizations, the MST decided to “join the struggle and support Rousseff” in order to avert a win for Serra’s “fascist and neoliberal proposals.”

In spite of reservations about the Lula administration on issues like agrarian reform, the social organizations’ manifesto expresses at least one certainty: Serra, who was health minister in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), would represent “a step backwards for social and popular movements and for the advance of democracy in our continent, as well as greater subordination to the empire of the United States,” it says.

Another religious group made up of lay people, pastors, priests and bishops belonging to evangelical and Catholic churches openly expressed support for the PT candidate.

They described their commitment as a reaction to the “conservative attack” on Rousseff, who was being labeled as pro-abortion, although she has never stated this as her position.

“We know there are people who call themselves religious, but who commit atrocities against children. Just because a candidate is religious does not necessarily mean he will govern justly and fairly,” says the group’s manifesto.

A conservative backlash by religious groups was one of the reasons why Rousseff failed to win the 50 percent support she needed for an outright victory on Oct. 3, according to analyst Ricardo Ismael of Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifícia Universidad Católica.

Ismael also mentioned other factors, like accusations of corruption against public figures close to Rousseff, and the strong showing by Green Party candidate and former environment minister Marina Silva, who garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote in the first round.

Sunday’s vote will be “hotly disputed and extremely close,” he said.