Lula’s plan to anoint Dilma Rousseff (pictured below with the president) as his successor has started to go awry amid the splintering of the Workers’ Party
WHEN the Workers’ Party (PT) was founded in 1980 it saw itself as a different kind of political outfit: socialist, ethical, youthful, even romantic. But little by little its role has been reduced to getting its founding and unrivalled leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former lathe operator and trade-union leader, into power and keeping him there. This has meant disappointments and compromises that are now causing the party harm. This month two of its 12 senators (out of a total of 81) walked out. One, Flávio Arns, accused his colleagues of “throwing morality in the dustbin”. The other, Marina Silva, a PT stalwart since the 1980s and a celebrated environmental campaigner, left to join the smaller Green Party.
The latest troubles stem mainly from Lula using his power to swing the party behind José Sarney, the Senate president and the kind of old-fashioned political boss whom many in the PT went into politics to get rid of. Mr Sarney commands a chunk of the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), a centrist bunch that follows where opportunity leads, but is Brazil’s largest and best organised political force. Mr Sarney has had troubles with the Senate’s ethics committee but has clung to his job thanks to Lula’s support. This is in aid of keeping the governing coalition together and swinging Mr Sarney’s block behind Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s chief of staff and chosen candidate for the presidential election in October 2010. “Lula had no choice,” judges David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasília, “but he has almost destroyed the PT.”
The turmoil has exposed problems that had been camouflaged by success. The biggest is that the party which became a vehicle for Lula’s election never really came up with a plan B. Having almost completed two terms, the president is out of the electoral picture until 2014 at least. Several of Lula’s most prominent lieutenants were taken out of contention for the top job by a corruption scandal in 2005, when it emerged that party leaders had bought votes in the Congress. This also had the effect of damaging the party’s image among its supporters and the wider electorate.
Lula turned to Ms Rousseff as his heir-apparent. She is a relatively new recruit to the PT. Although she is impressively competent, she lacks the president’s vote-getting charisma. She also has several troubles. She has undergone treatment for lymph cancer. Piauí, a monthly newsletter, has revealed that the PhD listed in her profile on the government’s website never existed. And a former head of the tax office claims to have had a meeting with her in which they discussed how to curtail an investigation into Mr Sarney and his family.
Perhaps worse for Ms Rousseff’s candidacy is the fact that Marina Silva, who has many of the qualities that she lacks, is likely to run for the presidency for the Green Party. Ms Silva is not very charismatic either, but she is one of the few other people in Brazilian politics with a biography to rival Lula’s. The daughter of rubber tappers in the Amazon, she learned to read as a teenager and did some of the menial jobs that many Brazilians labour in before becoming a star of the international environmental movement. This month she met an audience of business people at the Fundação Dom Cabral, a business school in Minas Gerais state, who expressed grudging respect for her uncompromising integrity.
Ms Silva is unlikely to be Brazil’s next president, but she could well siphon off votes from Ms Rousseff. Before then, though, she will have to sort out the Green Party. It, too, lost its moral impetus somewhere in Brasília. Its leader in the Chamber of Deputies is Zequinha Sarney, a former environment minister who is also the son of the senate’s compromised president.
A couple of months ago it looked as if the election would be a straight fight between Ms Rousseff and José Serra, the governor of São Paulo, of the opposition Party of Brazilian Social Democracy. In addition to Ms Silva, the list of possible candidates has expanded to include Heloísa Helena, who leads an earlier leftist split from the PT, and Ciro Gomes, a populist former minister in Lula’s government.
The splintering of Lula’s political base ought to be good news for Mr Serra. Hugely experienced but lacking a popular touch, Mr Serra commands a consistent 40% or so in pre-election polls, 20 points ahead of Ms Rousseff. He has recently spent time in the poorer north-east. And he has started revealing mundane aspects of his life on Twitter. João Augusto de Castro Neves, a political consultant, reckons that Mr Serra will wait for as long as possible before declaring his candidacy to avoid the sort of attacks that Ms Rousseff is now attracting. Being the front-runner is not easy and the race, which suddenly seems to have begun, is far from decided.