With the deadline having passed for political parties to hold their national conventions, we know now who will be on the presidential ballot come election day on October 7 – the only question mark remaining is whether or not former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be allowed to run for a third term.
Historically, picking a running mate (not only for president, but also for gubernatorial and mayoral elections) is an important element for building coalitions in Brazil. In a multi-party system such as ours, it is not rare for parties to offer the vice presidency to different groups – as compensation for electoral support, but also as a way of making a candidacy more compelling.
For this reason, candidates from one region often pick running mates from another; people with links to one social class tend to run alongside someone who speaks to a wealthier or poorer segment; left-wing candidates choose a VP nominee more to their right, and vice versa. In this presidential race, one other tactic has been seen: male candidates choosing women to run alongside them, a strategy which aims at reaching out to broader sectors of the electorate.
Despite the candidates’ intentions, it is highly doubtful that voters will pay much attention to who will be the understudy of the official candidate – who will, in fact, receive all of the attention and resources. Still, parties have persisted with their strategy to seek different profiles for the running mate spot. While voters don’t care about who the vice president is, it can be a dealbreaker for political parties which are courted for a coalition.
Voters, however, should pay more attention to the matter. In Brazil, after all, seeing a vice president replace the head of state is not uncommon. In 1985, José Sarney stepped up when Tancredo Neves died shortly before his inauguration; in 1992, Itamar Franco took over from the impeached Fernando Collor; the same happened when Michel Temer replaced Dilma Rousseff – after having actively conspired to get her removed from the presidency.
More than a “bonus” pick, a vice president can be perceived as a risk: an unsatisfied or over-ambitious understudy can become a dangerous adversary.
Assessing the vice president candidates
The leader in all polls (when Lula is not considered as a candidate), far-right Jair Bolsonaro signed a coalition with a party just as lilliputian as his own – and got a vice-presidential nominee who is, not unlike Mr. Bolsonaro, a retired member of the military: General Hamilton Mourão.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s first choice, however, was Janaina Paschoal, an extravagant lawyer who co-authored the legal piece that kicked off the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff, back in 2015. Although she supports the far-right candidate, Ms. Paschoal cited personal reasons to decline a spot as his vice president. She would, however, be an asset – well known to the electorate, she could improve his image with female voters – among whom Mr. Bolsonaro is polling at half of his numbers among men.
General Mourão recently defended a military intervention to “bring order back to Brazil.” His verbal incontinence precipitated his retirement – which allowed him to run for office. But despite what many pundits have said, Mr. Bolsonaro’s choice might not have been just the result of a sheer lack of options: the general could serve as a political hedge, as recently reported.
A radical politician, Mr. Bolsonaro would face the risk of impeachment from day one. But, as General Mourão is just as radical, he would not be an appealing replacement. In the cases of Fernando Collor and Dilma Rousseff, Congress replaced an embattled president by someone of a different profile.
The main issue with Mr. Bolsonaro’s running mate goes beyond his radicalism. General Mourão was in the military barracks until very recently, which tightens the bond between the campaign and the Armed Forces – a worrisome factor, in face of Brazil’s recent history. Maybe that’s what Mr. Bolsonaro meant when he said the general would help bring “governability” to his administration.
Another relevant candidate right of center (but infinitely more moderate than Mr. Bolsonaro) is Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, who chose Senator Ana Amélia, from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, as his vice president nominee. Even more conservative than Mr. Alckmin, she helps him on three fronts. First, she is a woman. Second, she helps him with voters in rural Brazil, who have been lured by the far-right campaign. And third, she strengthens his position in the wealthy southern region of Brazil, where Mr. Alckmin has been losing votes to a former ally, Senator Alvaro Dias, from Paraná.
Right now, what matters is reaching the runoff stage. So, getting stronger in the south is pivotal for Mr. Alckmin’s struggling campaign.
What about the left?
Two movements within the left merit close attention. One is the isolation of center-left candidate Ciro Gomes, who was forced to choose a running mate from within his own party. He picked Senator Kátia Abreu, a ruralist leader who migrated to the support base of Dilma Rousseff’s administration – supporting her throughout the impeachment process.
She is a vice presidential nomination that will not contribute to Mr. Gomes’ electoral stock. She doesn’t bring the support of other forces, is rejected within the left for her ties to the agribusiness sector, and is met with distrust by the right for her rapprochement with Ms. Rousseff. Ms. Abreu will probably cause more harm than good to Mr. Gomes’ chances.
The Workers’ Party, on the other side, insists on putting forward Lula as its candidate (however, in a less and less convincing way). Right now, Lula’s official running mate is former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad – but the ticket will change before election day.
If Lula is allowed to run for a third term, Mr. Haddad will be replaced by lawmaker Manuela D’Ávila, of the Communist Party of Brazil. Alternatively, if Lula’s candidacy is barred, Mr. Haddad will be the Workers’ Party’s presidential candidate, with Ms. D’Ávila slotting in as his running mate. The two young candidates can build an image of renewal, but they depend on the electorate realizing they are Lula’s candidates. If that message gets across to voters, we could see the same old battle between the Social Democracy Party and the Workers’ Party which we have seen since 1994.
Finally, environmentalist candidate Marina Silva chose former Congressman Eduardo Jorge, from the Green Party, as her running mate. Curiously, Ms. Silva and Mr. Jorge were adversaries in the 2014 presidential election.
Despite what its name might suggest, the Green Party is a vast umbrella which shelters all sorts of politicians, from fundamentalist evangelicals to a former Workers’ Party member who fervently defends the legalization of drugs and abortions, as is the case of Mr. Jorge. Ms. Silva’s Rede party and the Green Party, however, are tiny, with little structure nor TV and radio airtime – which will make this an uphill battle.
Ms. Silva’s asset is the fact that most voters already know her. She is seen as an honest and modern politician, who combines economic liberalism, social policies, and environmental concerns. But maybe that’s not enough to get over the hump.
Overall, of the five main candidacies, four have running mates who are ideologically aligned (the exception being Mr. Gomes), four of them combine a man and a woman. Two have a candidate from São Paulo and a vice president from Rio Grande do Sul. And one great novelty: the feminine presence – which has never been bigger at this stage.