Ciro Gomes

Jair Bolsonaro, the favorite to win Brazil’s presidential race, has welcomed comparisons to U.S. president Donald Trump. Well, another politician is being considered the local version of Senator Bernie Sanders: Ciro Gomes.

After the first round of the Brazilian elections, third-place Ciro Gomes and his Democratic Labor Party declared their “critical support” to the Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. Then, Mr. Gomes went on vacation to Europe. A few days after, his brother and political partner Cid Gomes made a harsh speech during what was supposed to be a pro-Haddad rally in Fortaleza.

Among other things, he said that the party deserved to lose the election because of its pride and air of superiority. Cid Gomes’ speech probably was a response to the outcomes of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s backstage negotiations to keep centrist parties from supporting his brother’s ticket.

The revenge of the Gomes brothers could not have come at a worse time. Mr. Haddad is almost 20 points behind in the polls, and projections indicate that he will lose to Jair Bolsonaro, who will come close to having 60 percent of the votes. In many ways, Cid Gomes’ speech is not far from what other critics say about the Workers’ Party’s mistakes over the years: that Lula and his allies will only negotiate if their conditions are fully met, that the current state of polarization we are experiencing is partially their fault, and that they must address their past mistakes, especially concerning corruption scandals. Cid Gomes said – and many agree – that Fernando Haddad does not deserve full support in light of all these errors.

Bad blood

Cid Gomes’ rant is the public expression of the resentment Ciro Gomes’ campaign has towards Lula, Mr. Haddad, and the Workers’ Party. Before the electoral race began, rumors said that Mr. Gomes and Lula were negotiating a joint ticket in an attempt to “unify the left.”

But as time passed, no public announcement was made. When Lula officially registered his candidacy, the name on the vice-president slot was Mr. Haddad, not Ciro Gomes. Some speculated that once the former president was barred from running by the Electoral Justice, Mr. Gomes and Mr. Haddad would announce their alliance. Such an arrangement would have made both more competitive, believes Filipe Campante, associate professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Of course, that never happened and both politicians went their separate ways. Mr. Gomes adopted a critical, sometimes hostile, stance towards the Workers’ Party and its legacy – even though he still defended Lula’s right to run. In September, during a debate, Fernando Haddad revealed that he had in fact invited Ciro Gomes to be his vice-presidential running mate. The former governor of Ceará refused it. He wanted to be the main candidate.

Now, some suggest that had Ciro Gomes managed to get the support needed, he would be a stronger candidate and would have kept Jair Bolsonaro from being elected president. Polls showed that Mr. Gomes had, in fact, a lower rejection rate than the Workers’ Party candidate and would have beaten Mr. Bolsonaro in second-round projections. Political scientist Filipe Campante agrees. “The antipathy towards the Workers’ Party is a very strong feeling in various segments of Brazilian society.” The party’s involvement in a number of scandals over the last decade made Mr. Haddad a risky bet. Voters could flock to the authoritarian former military man just to keep the Workers’ Party from snatching the presidency again. And this is what it seems to be happening.

Ciro Gomes: Brazil’s Bernie Sanders?

This storyline is strikingly similar to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Democrat Bernie Sanders was rising in voter’s preferences and for a moment seemed that he could beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries. He didn’t and Hillary was defeated by Donald Trump. Later it was revealed that those supporting her candidacy had actively worked against Mr. Sanders to keep him from being the party’s nominee. There were even accusations that fraud was committed in the primaries to favor Hillary.

After these revelations, the idea that Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump took over the internet. It even got its own section at Know Your Meme, the Encyclopedia Britannica of internet culture. Hillary was accused of being unable to motivate traditional democratic voters to go to the polls. This was a determinant factor in her defeat. Her campaign failed to show that it had solutions for the working classes that saw their jobs vanish and head overseas.

A similar accusation is being thrown at Fernando Haddad. His speech seems unappealing to a lower and middle classes who have closely felt the effects of the Brazilian recession. In an attempt to win over those voters, Ciro Gomes announced a policy to deal with people’s debts. Later, the Workers’ Party campaign incorporated its adversary’s proposal with little repercussion. Voters that were once a part of Lula’s electoral base have migrated to Mr. Bolsonaro. In some analysts’ opinions, the corruption charges against the party’s politicians, Dilma Rousseff’s inability to steer away from recession and the lack of new ideas are weakening Fernando Haddad.

Not cut from the same cloth

Mr. Campante does not see a very strong parallel. Ciro Gomes, he says, does not have the same committed followers Sanders has. Also, many voters did not cast a ballot for Hillary because they were ashamed of what had happened during the primaries. Mr. Campante does not believe that to be the case in Brazil – that is, the Workers’ Party did not lose votes because of the so-called sabotage towards Mr. Gomes’ candidacy. “The issue is”, he says “that there is a potentially significant number of voters who do not vote for the Workers’ Party in any case, but who would be willing to vote for Ciro Gomes against Jair Bolsonaro”.

Certainly, comparisons are often limited and imprecise. Especially considering that Ciro Gomes and Fernando Haddad do not belong to the same party and there is no such thing as primaries here. But the U.S. story has a clear warning: fragmentation can be dangerous when a country yearns for clear answers to its problems. Donald Trump profited enormously from the suspicion that haunted Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The same thing seems to be happening to Bolsonaro. While the center-left fights internally, his polls numbers only seem to rise. Whether he will follow Trump’s path and succeed is yet to be seen.

Ciro Gomes now has a chance to return to the electoral spotlight, with the revelations made by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that businesses have been hiring digital agencies for mass messaging services on WhatsApp, favoring Jair Bolsonaro. Such a practice, if proven, constitutes illegal campaign financing and could lead to the impeachment of Mr. Bolsonaro’s ticket. Mr. Gomes, on hearing the news, is returning to Brazil and his party requested the results of the first round of elections be annulled entirely. In the unlikely case that the Bolsonaro ticket was canceled before next Sunday’s runoff, third-place Mr. Gomes would step in and dispute the presidency with Fernando Haddad.

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PowerOct 21, 2018

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.