The center-right’s rocky path to the presidency in Brazil

. Dec 12, 2017
psdb geraldo alckmin 2018 election Geraldo Alckmin during his party's national convention. Photo: PSDB
psdb geraldo alckmin 2018 election

Geraldo Alckmin during his party’s national convention. Photo: PSDB

Over the weekend, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) held its national convention to elect São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin as party chair. The move consolidates Alckmin as the probable PSDB presidential nominee for the 2018 election. Now at the helm of the party, he will be able to negotiate alliances, distribute campaign funds to allies, and benefit from media exposure. But Alckmin’s path to the presidency will be anything but a smooth ride.

Since 1994, the presidential race has been dominated by a clash between PSDB and the Workers’ Party. Lula, the supreme leader of the latter, leads all presidential polls. Unless a court of appeals makes him ineligible for office, his place in the runoff stage seems secured. Alckmin, however, has just 7 percent of voting intentions – it’s a mediocre score for a four-time governor of the union’s richest state and a former presidential runner-up.

</p> <p>In his first speech as party chair, Alckmin has promised to beat Lula. But to keep his word, he will first need to make it to the runoff stage. With the elections less than a year away, Alckmin needs to make his mark on a race that will feature extremism right-winger <a href="">Jair Bolsonaro</a>, who is already <a href="">polling</a> better than Alckmin.</p> <p>Thanks to an early grassroots campaigning effort, Bolsonaro already has around 10 percent of the votes in spontaneous polls (when voters are not presented with possible candidates). In comparison, Lula – who was the country’s most popular president, ever – has 17 percent. Alckmin has 1 percent. To make matters worse for the PSDB to-be candidate, Bolsonaro’s supporters are far more loyal than the average voter.</p> <p>To make it to the runoff stage, Alckmin will also have to overcome competition from Marina Silva. She is an environmentalist, and came in third during the last two elections. While Silva is anything but an energizing political force, she is a moderate who pleases centrists. And while that might not be good enough to take the election, it could be enough to kill Geraldo Alckmin’s presidential hopes.</p> <p>In Alckmin’s ideal reality, he would secure large amounts of TV airtime – thanks to alliances with traditional parties – and steal voters from the gravitational fields of Bolsonaro and Silva. But how could he pander to such dissimilar voter bases? Solving that conundrum would not be an easy task, even for a charismatic candidate – and we can’t say that about São Paulo’s governor.</p> <p>Moreover, Alckmin embodies the kind of non-committal behavior that has hampered his party over the last few years. PSDB wants to present itself as a party of morals. Yet at the same time, it has protected its former chair, Senator Aécio Neves, who was recorded asking for bribes from a businessman. Alckmin himself is currently targeted by a federal anti-corruption investigation.</p> <p>PSDB is also hoping to galvanize those who reject Brazil’s political establishment. But just moments before condemning the political class, Alckmin thanked ten major, established parties in his inauguration ceremony for their presence.</p> <p>Finally, there is the party’s problematic relationship with Michel Temer’s administration. Rejected by 73 percent of Brazilians, Temer commands the country’s biggest party (he is also the recipient of the most free TV airtime). While PSDB congressmen are hoping to distance themselves from Temer, Alckmin supports the embattled president’s reform agenda. The problem with this strategy? If the economy improves, PSDB might not be able to capitalize on the change. If it doesn’t, Alckmin’s bid risks being tarnished by associating with Temer’s administration.</p> <p>Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, one of the founders of PSDB, said that it was better to beat Lula at the polls than to put him in jail. It was a nice speech, but neither Alckmin nor Cardoso want to see Lula on the ballot in 2018. Without Lula, the two spots for the runoff stage would be up for grabs – which, at this point, might be Ackmin’s <a href="">only</a> chance.

Read the full story NOW!

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at