Squabbles on the Brazilian left hark back to 1989

. Oct 06, 2018
Squabbles on the Brazilian left hark back to 1989 In 1989, the Brazilian left was also divided

In the Brazilian presidential election of 1989, the first direct election after the military dictatorship, the media propelled the candidacy of Fernando Collor de Mello as the leading conservative alternative. With a stunning 22 candidates, his opposition was heavily fragmented, nowhere more so than on the Brazilian left.

The most popular options were Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers’ Party, and Leonel Brizola, of the Democratic Labour Party (PDT). Both candidates, with enough votes combined to defeat Mr. Collor de Mello, refused to join forces. Lula finished second and qualified for the run-off, but was left debilitated by the first-round attacks from Mr. Brizola. Mr. Collor de Melo defeated him in the second round and became president, only to resign in the third year of his term, facing an impeachment process.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Twenty-nine years on, history appears to be repeating itself. The Workers’ Party and PDT are once again squabbling over the left vote, this time between candidates Fernando Haddad and Ciro Gomes. The difference is that today, in 2018, there is a lot more at stake. The candidate benefitting from all of this discord is former Army captain and proto-fascist Jair Bolsonaro.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Haddad and Mr. Gomes are currently second and third in the polls, with 25 and 13 percent of valid votes, respectively. Combined, they would reach a tie with Mr. Bolsonaro, who sits at 39 percent.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The two center-left candidates have had very different trajectories, however. While Mr. Haddad rocketed from 6 percent last month to where he is today, Ciro Gomes’ numbers have remained mostly unchanged since the beginning of the campaign.</span></p> <h2>The Workers&#8217; Party divided the Brazilian left</h2> <div id="attachment_9471" style="width: 625px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-9471" class="size-full wp-image-9471" src="" alt="Squabbles on the Brazilian left hark back to 1989" width="615" height="300" srcset=" 615w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 615px) 100vw, 615px" /><p id="caption-attachment-9471" class="wp-caption-text">2018 Brazilian left: Ciro (L) and Haddad (R)</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an election characterized by intense waves of anti-Workers’ Party, anti-corruption and anti-political sentiment, Ciro Gomes saw himself with an excellent chance of winning the election. He has no corruption allegations against his name, his politics are largely centrist and conciliatory, and he is neither too close nor too far from the Workers’ Party to alienate either its haters or supporters. From this point of view, Mr. Gomes had an excellent chance at becoming president. However, things did not go as planned.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Initially, with Lula’s imprisonment, there was talk of the Workers’ Party getting <a href="">behind</a> a broad left/center-left coalition with Ciro Gomes as the candidate and Fernando Haddad as vice president. Rightly or wrongly, the Workers’ Party insisted on having their own candidate, with or <a href="">without Lula</a>, dashing Mr. Gomes’ hopes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then, it came time to build party alliances, and the Workers’ Party got in Mr. Gomes’ way once again. Forming alliances is a crucial part of Brazilian electoral politics, as coalitions determine the share of television and radio advertising space each candidate receives. Having missed out on the support of the unified pool of center and center-right parties known as the “Big Center,” Ciro Gomes and the PDT began a frustrated attempt to court the Brazilian Socialist Party. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Fearing they would lose their grip on the center-left, Lula and the Workers’ Party hashed out a deal with the Socialists, in which the party would declare neutrality in the first round, isolating Mr. Gomes and the PDT.</span></p> <h2>Revenge for 1989?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Inside the party, many members of the PDT feel these maneuvers are the Workers’ Party exacting their revenge for the 1989 election and Leonel Brizola’s refusal to stand down as a candidate and support Lula in the first round.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the 1989 quarrel helped elect the disastrous Fernando Collor de Mello, this new PDT v. Workers’ Party scuffle could have even more severe consequences. Neither party is particularly well-known for their ability to self-critique, meaning the back-and-forth bickering is leading nowhere, and risks handing the election to extreme far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the first round.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If the election does go to a run-off, Ciro Gomes and the PDT are likely to throw their support behind Fernando Haddad and the Workers’ Party, in a bid to block a victory for Mr. Bolsonaro. However, suggestions that Mr. Gomes might join the Workers’ Party campaign, accepting a future cabinet position, seem unlikely. The PDT has bashed such alliances and the Workers’ Party considerably throughout this campaign, going back on that in the second round would be grossly incoherent.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The parallel between <a href="">this year’s election</a> and the Lula v. Brizola saga of 1989 show precisely how Brazilian politics seem to run in circles. The year is 2018, but we’ve never seemed closer to a descent into authoritarianism, nor the election of Fernando Collor in 1989.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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