Two elections in Latin America

Results of the Brazilian Presidential election, first round on October 3:
Dilma Rousseff ……46.91% (goes to run-off)
José Serra …………32.61% (goes to run-off)
Marina Silva……….19.33% (no endorsement yet for the runoff)
Others……………..1.15% (includes vanishing sentimental hard-left voters)
Total valid votes 101,590,153

This is all much as expected. Dilma´s vote was 2% or so down on the last polls of voting intentions , and Marina as much up. The gap was bigger on pure preferences; but Dilms already faced a 2% enthusiasm gap betwen these and voting intentions. It looks as if this gap widened. A lot of voters were undecided up to the very end: 6% according to Datafolha´s last national poll on September 28/29. Marina Silva actually beat Serra into third place in Rio de Janeiro state. The pólls were spot on (within 1%) for the Rio state governorship.

It´s a quite good result IMHO. Brazil´s main problems – inequality, lousy infrastructure, deforestation, poor education compared to other BRICs – require more government rather than less. Dilma has had a warning rather than a plebiscite, and cannot ignore the greening of the electorate. Sustainability is the new soundbite. Also it´s not a result that lends comfort to conspiracy theories of massive ballot-rigging by le pouvoir, which the paperless system encourages.

Without Silva´s dignified presence, the tone of the runoff election has deteriorated sharply into soundbites to show who is more personally against abortion, and mudslinging over sleaze. I can´t figure out what Serra, far the more experienced campaigner, thinks he is up to. To have a fighting chance, he has to (a) convince all of Silva´s electors that he´s serious about the Amazon and climate change, (b) convince some of Dilma´s electors that he won´t touch their bolsa familia and will direct a lot of the prospective oil wealth their way through infrastructure in the poor regions. He doesn´t appear to be trying and merely getting out the conservative base will not give him a chance.

Mind you, the sleaze charges against Dilma are pretty convincing. Erenice Guerra, her previous right-hand woman and successor as Lula´s chief of staff, had to resign last month in an influence-peddling scandal. Dilma and Lula are shocked, shocked. The structural incentives – the party of the poor always has a harder time financing itself than the party of the rich, its leaders are personally less wealthy – don´t help: I guess the money corruption of the left tends to take more illegal forms than that of the right (see Blair, Mitterand). Dilma´s attitude and recent career as a machine politician mean that we can expect lots more of the same during her mandate.

The Venezuelan parliamentary elections on 26 September were more interesting really. Against the odds and a barrage by Chavez´ tame media, the opposition to Chavez almost tied the popular vote (47.17% to Chavez´48.20%). International observers weren´t allowed in, so the opposition may have got a majority in fact. Chavez´party still has a large working majority in parliament, but not the two-thirds needed for constitutional amendments. The revolution has stalled, though the opposition will have a very hard time of it.

The opposition is interesting as well as brave. It´s a coalition of opposition parties of all shades, from left-of-Chavez to old-style conservatives. The language of the name – Mesa de la Unidad Democrática – comes straight from the Polish Solidarność of the 1980s. Solidarity was legally a trade union, but the broad umbrella approach is similar. As its leaders expected, after 1989 Solidarity disintegrated as a national movement into normal parties, though it survives as a trades union. MUD even held primaries to select candidates from any party with a winning chance.

Both Brazilian and Venezuelan electors are acting entirely rationally. Brazilians are voting for continuity, as things are going pretty well, Venezuelans for change, as they are going very badly. Even Caracas favelas are no longer safe fiefs for Chavez. Is only the American electorate incapable of understanding its own self-interest, and identifying those responsible for its condition?