If you’re following the Brazilian media, you’ve probably read that the polarization between former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Congressman Jair Bolsonaro appears to be consolidated. Polls show that Lula is the preferred candidate for one-third of Brazilian voters, while Bolsonaro’s voting intentions are approaching 20 percent. And since no one else has come into the spotlight, the election will probably come down to a decision between the two.
But there’s more than meets the eye.
Murmurs of a candidacy by TV presenter Luciano Huck have been rattling around for months, and he has the support of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, his personal friend. Right now, without a single public effort to boost his name, the polls put Huck at between 5 and 8 percent of voting intentions – the same as São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin.
Famous nationwide for a TV program that revolves heavily around helping the disenfranchised, Huck could cater to the part of the Brazilian public who believe that the state should fulfill a role as a “provider.” However, Huck is also pleasing to the business class because of his market-friendly views. Huck is, after all, a shareholder in over 20 business ventures – from an online clothing store to a software company to Brazil’s most popular YouTube comedy group.
His allies are already calling his name a “centrist option in the midst of a polarized situation.”
How Luciano Huck entered the political arena
For years, Huck has entertained personal friendships with members of the center-right party PSDB. Back in 2016, Cardoso published an op-ed in Estado S.Paulo saying that it is “a time to dare.” Then, at the beginning of this year, the former head of state was less subtle, and specifically named Huck as a representative of “what’s new in Brazilian politics.”
The possibility of Huck’s presidential run started to sound serious after he gave an interview to Folha de S.Paulo in March, claiming it was “time for [his] generation to hold power.” Then, one month later, his wife told a magazine that she didn’t want to become Brazil’s first lady. Luciano Huck follows an old modus operandi in politics: he claims he’s not a candidate, only to stir up conversations about his candidacy.
Luciano Huck’s name has also been associated with a group called ‘Renova Brasil’ (Renewing Brazil), which will create a fund to finance candidacies of people running for office for the first time. The fund is supported by a group of businesspeople who will, starting in January, invest 5,000 BRL per month and aim to elect up to 100 congressmen (out of 513). This fund, however, has been challenged on the grounds of being illegal because Brazil’s legislation forbids companies from donating to campaigns.
Despite insisting he’s not a candidate, Huck has held meetings with a variety of parties, from the right-wing DEM to the ultra-liberal ‘Novo’ to the environmentalist ‘Rede’. His candidacy is taken so seriously that Globo, his employer, has issued an ultimatum: if he wants to be a politician, he needs to quit his position by the end of the year.
There is (almost) a precedent
Unlike most new names wanting to run from office, Luciano Huck would not suffer from a public lack of awareness around his name. Since 2000, he has hosted his own TV show on Globo, Brazil’s leading TV station. In his shows, Huck helps underprivileged people to improve their homes or cars, and has his own version of the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. He has crafted his image into a “modern good boy.”
His presidential ambitions remind us of fellow TV presenter Silvio Santos, the billionaire owner of SBT, one of Brazil’s leading TV stations. Like Huck, Santos has built his career around programs that help the poor achieve material dreams – like buying a new car or revamping their homes. In 1989, Brazil’s first direct presidential election since the 1960s, Santos decided that he wanted to be president.
At a time when electoral rules were far looser, he launched his candidacy only two weeks prior to Election Day. According to his VP candidate, Santos said: “Two weeks is a lot of time. I could win it all in less than a week.” Indeed, his name was powerful, and some polls had him in second place with 18 percent of voting intentions – enough to get to the runoff stage. However, a technicality led to the invalidation of his candidacy. We’ve never known if a TV presenter could make it that far in a real election. Of course, we might find out next year.