Can Fernando Haddad pull an upset?

After Sunday’s first round of voting, the battle lines are now set. The Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad will face far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the October 28 runoff to decide who will be Brazil’s next president.

At this early stage, three weeks before the vote, there is a clear favorite. Jair Bolsonaro’s 46 percent of votes in the first round was just four percentage points off an absolute majority. Theoretically, he would need an extra four million votes to push him over the line. Fernando Haddad, on the other hand, has a much larger amount of ground to cover, needing to increase from 29 percent to 50 percent.

Precedent is not on his side, either. Never in a Brazilian runoff vote has the leader in the first round went on to lose, and certainly not by losing such a significant lead as Jair Bolsonaro’s.

The first reputable opinion polls of the second-round only served to underline just how big a task Mr. Haddad has at hand. On Wednesday, polling institute Datafolha published that Mr. Bolsonaro leads with 58 percent of valid votes, meaning the Workers’ Party candidate will have to muster an eight-point swing before October 28.


The roadmap to a Fernando Haddad comeback


The roadmap to a Fernando Haddad comeback


This, however, is no ordinary election, and the three weeks to come are the equivalent of a lifetime in Brazilian politics.

However, it cannot be ignored that if Mr. Haddad is to turn this around, dramatic changes will need to be made to the Workers’ Party campaign, some of which appear to be in progress already.

A united front in defense of democracy

During the massive #EleNão (Not Him) protests of the last few weeks, demonstrators against Jair Bolsonaro attacked the candidate for his perceived disregard for democracy. His proximity to the Armed Forces causes uneasiness for a large part of the population, in a country which lived through a military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

While the practical effect of #EleNão was not nearly as strong as expected, in the three weeks before the second-round vote, the Workers’ Party campaign will approach defeated rivals in a bid to form a broad centrist alliance in “defense of democracy”.

The main aim of this is to snap up votes which went to Ciro Gomes, Marina Silva, Henrique Meirelles (and even traditional adversary Geraldo Alckmin) in the first round. Winning over this part of the electorate is the absolute minimum the Fernando Haddad campaign must do.

Be wary of antipetismo

Arguably the biggest electoral force in Brazil of the last five years is antipetismo – the staunch rejection of the Workers’ Party, known locally by its acronym PT. This sentiment has manifested itself at all levels of elections, with Workers’ Party members of Congress and governors forced out all around the country. Now, while this is not going away any time soon, Fernando Haddad is necessarily going to need to attract voters who are moderately antipetista, by presenting himself as the lesser evil.

To do so, he must be careful not to focus the campaign on the hot-button issues that trigger anti-Workers’ Party voters. Expect jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to take a back seat in the campaign. Lula remains the country’s most popular and loved politician (when he was still running for president, he polled at similar levels to Jair Bolsonaro and would likely have won in the first round), but he’s also Brazil’s most hated politician.

The campaign also needs to tone down some of the elements of its platform some voters see as “extreme”, such as the Workers’ Party’s promise to reform the constitution and call a new constituent assembly. Mr. Haddad quickly went back on this promise, stating that they would reform the Brazilian bill of rights through amendments, and not by writing a new one.

In terms of branding, the campaign is already taking steps to take the focus away from the party and on to the candidate. The Haddad 2018 logo has changed colors, from the Workers’ Party’s traditional red to the blue, yellow, and green of the Brazilian flag. References to former president Lula have been removed.

Attack Bolsonaro on his proposals

During the first round, most of the attacks on Mr. Bolsonaro were related to him being a distasteful character. He has made several homophobic, racist, and sexist remarks in the past, and has been criminally convicted on occasion, but this is clearly not enough to dissuade voters.

Since his September 6 stabbing, Mr. Bolsonaro has been off the campaign trail. We have only seen him in two debates and thus he has never been challenged directly on his proposals.

In fact, there is plenty to challenge. The Bolsonaro government plan is remarkably vague, with few detailed proposals and single-word bullet points containing buzzwords such as “diversification.”

There will be six debates between now and the second-round vote, and this is where Mr. Haddad sees his opportunity to file away at his opponent’s lead. Mr. Haddad quickly laid down the gauntlet to Mr. Bolsonaro, declaring he will attend all the debates and that his adversary “cannot hide behind social media.”

Hearing the news that Mr. Bolsonaro plans to avoid the first televised second-round debate this week on medical advice, Mr. Haddad was emphatic in his response during a press conference to the foreign media. “I’ll go to the infirmary to debate him if I have to,” he exclaimed. “If the doctors are afraid I’ll make him stressed, I won’t. I’ll speak softly. I won’t even look him in the eye if it scares him.”

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PowerOct 11, 2018

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.