Could a moderate win Brazil’s presidential race?

. Jun 08, 2018
marina silva presidential race Moderates are struggling in this year's presidential race.
marina silva presidential race

Moderates are struggling in this year’s presidential race.

Brazilian centrists are desperate. This group of politicians and intellectuals fear that the 2018 presidential race will be decided in the runoff stage by two radical candidates: Jair Bolsonaro to the right and Ciro Gomes to the left. That is, providing neither of them snatches the presidency in the first round of voting, thanks to rising abstention rates. It is not a probable scenario, but anything is possible in today’s Brazil.

This anxiety among the political center is fueled by the struggles of former São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who has failed miserably to take off as a competitive candidate. The quintessential centrist, Mr. Alckmin is a moderate who is fond of economic conservatism. He would champion the austerity policies and state reform that the markets badly want. But he has failed to inspire confidence in supporters and analysts – and his polling numbers are very poor indeed.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In theory, it&#8217;s too early to write him off, given his campaign&#8217;s potential to gather money and TV airtime for commercials. But even his most fervent supporters will acknowledge that Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s polling numbers are ridiculous for someone who has served as the governor of Brazil&#8217;s richest state for four terms and who has the sympathy of the establishment.</span></p> <h3>A campaign with no enthusiasm</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s presidential hopes seem increasingly unrealistic. Every week, political pundits predict the death of his candidacy. In politics, the further people think you are from power, the harder it gets to galvanize support &#8211; thus placing a candidate even further from power in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s problems are not limited to the polls. The presidential hopeful is currently the head of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and his image is unavoidably tied to two of his predecessors who are at odds with the law &#8211; one, Eduardo Azeredo, is already in jail, and the other, Aécio Neves, should soon find himself inside a cell. Being tied with corrupt politicians hurts Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s chances with voters who don&#8217;t support the current administration &#8211; accounting for some 94 percent of the electorate.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To the right, the former São Paulo governor can&#8217;t take voters away from the <a href="">authoritarian</a> Jair Bolsonaro. To the left, his political family lost its social democrat appeal after years of right-wing politics.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Being at the center is only good when there&#8217;s room for growth. But that doesn&#8217;t seem to be his case.</span></p> <h3>A new centrist force?</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Alckmin&#8217;s desperation brings hope to another centrist candidate: Marina Silva. The environmentalist activist is a political figure with many problems: hesitation and omission have been her forte during times of distress. Moreover, she doesn&#8217;t always manage to communicate in a way that resonates with the average voter. To be fair, though, Ms. Silva embodies many qualities. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She remains untouched by the dozens of political scandals that have rocked Brasilia. Both to the left and the right, Ms. Silva is seen as an honest and sincere candidate &#8211; characteristics rarely associated with Brazilian politicians. Finally, she is surrounded by moderate advisors who have a profound understanding of the quagmire Brazil has put itself into.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a moment where voters are looking for an outsider, Marina Silva can try to be just that &#8211; despite her résumé which includes a stint as minister and senator, alongside two presidential campaigns. She was never part of the &#8220;swamp.&#8221; While she did support defeated  PSDB candidate Aécio Neves (who is closer and closer to jail) in the 2014 presidential election, so did 49 percent of voters. While Ms. Silva defends the need for structural reforms, her story as a self-made woman is a statement of the need for social policies championed by the state.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Ms. Silva has considerable electoral capital. In polls that don&#8217;t include former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a candidate, she receives as much as 15 percent of voting intentions. Her potential might lure moderate centrists and softcore leftists. As an Evangelical Christian, she can also make inroads with religious sectors of the democratic right wing. If anyone can amplify the center, that someone is Marina Silva.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sometimes, circumstances trump the actors. Geraldo Alckmin&#8217;s allies have <a href="">already realized that</a>.

Carlos Melo

Political scientist and sociologist, professor at São Paulo's Insper Business School. Follow his blog

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