by Luis Fleischman
Three elections are due to take place in one-month period. One in Brazil (where the first round already took place), another one in Bolivia and finally one in Uruguay.
Interestingly enough, the only election whose result is certain is the one in Bolivia, which will take place on October 12, where the incumbent president Evo Morales leads with 38% of the vote while the rest are small parties that are well behind him. Morales is a highly authoritarian president, a follower of Hugo Chavez and dangerously repressive. Yet, The Morales government has benefitted, like other governments in South America, from high revenues from exports, which in a decade have increased from about $2 billion to around $10 billion. This is mostly due to high international prices of minerals and gas. Likewise, high public spending increased demand and also enabled to significantly increase employment by expanding the public bureaucracy. By the same token, the minimum wage also increased by almost 130%, benefitting the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
Thus, this explains Morales’s considerable electoral advantage, regardless of his undemocratic and antagonistic style.
However, elections in Brazil and Uruguay are not as certain. On October 5th, the general elections took place in Brazil. The incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff, received 41.6% of the votes, followed by the candidate of the center-right pro-business Aecio Neves who is the head of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). This has forced the race to a run-off, which will take place on October 26 between these two candidates.
The huge protests that the Brazilian president faced as well as the recession and corruption scandals within the Rousseff government did not affect the poor masses who still supported Rousseff. Rousseff is seen as a populist leader and protector of this sector. However, the upper class as well as important sectors of the growing middle classes seemed to have voted against her. Indeed, the result of the election brought about an immediate reaction as Brazil’s stock index climbed by 8 percent one day after the election and the national currency gained about 3 percent. This seems to be the result of new hopes in the business community raised by Neves’ electoral accomplishments.
This shows the discontent of the business community with the Workers Party government, despite the fact that this sector was included in the government of the WP from the beginning (an act that surprised many).
Now both candidates are trying to attract the 21% of the remaining votes that went to Marina Silva, an environmentalist and former member of the Workers party government. Silva, despite having some elements of populism naturally closer to Rousseff, some of his supporters already said they would vote for Neves. Still Neves has a long uphill battle in the next few weeks since it needs to win at least 75% of Silva’s votes to win the election.
Interestingly enough, foreign policy one of the issues that is of great concern to us is not widely debated in Brazil. However, several analysts in Brazil have pointed out that if Neves wins, we should expect a closer relation to the United States and Europe contrary to the coalition of emerging economies (BRICS) and the South-South relations (namely broader relations with third world and Arab countries) that the Workers Party avidly promoted.
This foreign policy of the Rousseff government is not just an economic policy. It is also an ideological alliance based on populism and anti-colonialism (or anti-imperialism) that has gone openly in support of a multipolar world and against what they view as U.S and European hegemony and dominance. Brazil is the regional leader of such policy and is well more effective than the vulgar style of the Venezuelan government. Still Brazil has turned into the main protector of the openly anti-American and repressive Venezuelan government and it has successfully helped to reintegrate Cuba- more than half century communist dictatorship- to the family of South American nations. Overall Brazil has implemented a foreign policy that goes against the United States under the slogan of an “independent foreign policy” up to the point of succeeding in taking the lead among South American nations in the Middle East conflict. Thus, under Brazil leadership, many countries in the region adopted a critical position of Israel and embraced the Palestinian side unconditionally.
It would be a very positive development if Brazil changes its international approach. Brazil is an emerging economy and an emergent democracy. Its natural place is among democracies. The world’s democratic block could be significantly strengthened if Brazil joined the West, particularly in a world where the alternatives are the authoritarian and semi-democratic China and Russia and where rogue states such as Iran and Venezuela as well as terrorist groups multiply.
Uruguay will hold its election also on October 26.
There are eight candidates, however, the main contest is expected to take place between the leader of the current socialist ruling party, Tabare Vazquez and the leader of the National Party Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou. Surveys indicate that the ruling Broad Front will win the first round. Yet things are not clear with regard to the run-off. According to polls, currently the Broad Front leads with 42%; the National Party follows with 32%, and the Red Party with 15%. The Red Party, led by Pedro Bordaberry, is closer in its platform to the National Party than to the Broad Front.
For example while Vazquez supports regional alliances, particularly Mercosur (the South American common market), Lacalle and Bordaberry have talked about exploring new courses such as the Pacific Alliance and more trade with the United States. Mercosur mostly subscribes to Brazil’s foreign policy.
Vazquez focused his campaign on continuity, namely, expanding the welfare state and paying attention to the most disadvantaged sectors of society. Lacalle and Bordaberry have focused their campaigns on the problem of insecurity and crime, which is rampantly increasing in the country becoming a real issue of public concern.
This means that if the 15% of those Red Party projected votes go to Lacalle, the Broad Front could ether lose the election or win by a small margin since 3% of the votes belong to the Independent Party and 3% have not yet defined themselves. This six percent can vote either way. The Popular Unity that currently has 1% is likely to go to the Broad Front and the same applies to the Ecology Party that also has 1% in the polls. Therefore, the final result seems to be uncertain.
Uruguay’s foreign policy has been attached to Brazil, particularly since President Jose Mujica from the Broad Front came to power in 2009.
Vazquez did not take such a radical approach with regard to the United States or the Venezuelan and Cuban governments when he was president between 2005 and 2010. However, it is far from clear if he would change the course set by Mujica.
Undoubtedly a defeat for the left in Brazil and Uruguay but particularly in the former may have a serious negative effect on the regional hegemony of the left. Likewise, it may have a positive effect on the relation with the United States and the geo-political map of the area. The Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) may weaken as well. Yet, this picture remains an option but still has the status of wishful thinking for the time being.
We only know that we don’t know what is going to happen after this round of elections.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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