President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) won 49 percent of the votes in the presidential election in Brazil last Sunday.
The vote means that the president, known to Brazilians simply as Lula, fell short of the 50 percent required to win re-election in the first round. He will now face a runoff against right wing candidate Geraldo Alckmin, who took 42 percent of the vote.
In third place Heloisa Helena, the presidential candidate for the Party of Socialism and Freedom (P-Sol), took 7 percent of the vote - winning the backing of over 6.5 million people. Heloisa is a well known senator, who was expelled from the PT for opposing the government’s neo-liberal policies.
Lula will be the favourite in the second round elections, to be held on 29 October. However, his vote was lower than many predicted, and there is a danger that he could squander his remaining support by continuing to ape the neo?liberal politics of his opponent.
His election as president in 2002 was a source of hope for millions of poor Brazilians. But four years on there is a sense that Lula has turned on the workers who voted him into power.
Supporters of Heloisa are likely to vote for Lula and the PT in the second round, while continuing to criticise the betrayals of the Lula government.
The votes won by Heloisa, running as part of a joint campaign involving P-Sol, another far left party and the Brazilian Communist Party, show how the anger at Lula can be mobilised behind a left wing alternative.
P-Sol, which was founded just two years ago, had minuscule resources compared to other parties. But Heloisa’s campaign galvanised a sizeable number of Brazilians attracted by her hard hitting critiques of the sellouts of the Lula government.
Her political programme contained commitments to land reform, and increased investments in education, healthcare and other social services. Many activists from trade unions and social movements rallied to the campaign.
The first Lula government, which took office in 2003, capitulated to the interests of the bankers and the corporations, maintaining high interest rates and focusing solely on the export economy.
Booming agricultural exports allowed some reforms for the very poorest. But the hopes of millions of Brazilians were dashed by the “business as usual” politics of the Lula government, which used much of its revenues to pay off its debt to the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders.
The PT, in another sign of continuity with the old political order, built alliances with the most rotten political parties.
This even included deals with politicians who have blood on their hands from the military dictatorship of 1964-85. Trade unions and social movements, on the other hand, have either been ignored or faced attacks such as an assault on pension rights.
The PT has become embroiled in a corruption scandal. It is alleged that money from the state budget was used to bribe opposition politicians to support the government in key votes. Forty senior PT members are on trial over corruption charges.
The wealthy elite see Lula as a man they can do business with. Early in this year’s presidential campaign, the head of one of Brazil’s largest banks declared that whether Lula or Alckmin won the election made little difference to the ruling class.
Lula’s main opponent Alckmin was a former governor of Sao Paulo and close ally of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
He was correctly seen by many Brazilians as a right wing threat to the reforms that social movements have wrung out of governments in the past two decades.
But many voters could see so little difference between the two leading candidates’ programmes that they decided to vote for the “real” right winger rather than continue to back Lula.
Lula skipped all of the national debates organised by the media, constantly played up his image as a humble working class Brazilian and sensationally hinted at the possibilities of a right wing coup against his government.
When discussing the fact that the PT would enjoy less support overall in the Congress, Senate and state governments, he half-joked that Congress should be shut down.
Corrupt, dishonest and cosy with the ruling class, the PT has ceased to offer any alternative for Brazilian workers.
In its second term the PT will be even more dependent on deals with the right to get legislation through the Senate and Congress, so government policies are likely to become even more conservative.
Any change in the favourable conditions for Brazilian exports on world markets would also hit the economy - making social reforms even less likely.
In this context, there are tremendous opportunities for P-Sol, the unions and social movements. The thirst for an alternative is shown by recent workers’ struggles.
For instance, bank employees launched an unprecedented series of rolling strikes across the nation in the last week of the election campaign, threatening an all-out national strike this week.
But P-Sol militants will also have to think hard about the mistakes of the campaign. As Socialist Worker went to press, it appeared that P-Sol would only get three federal deputies elected, and no senators, governors or state deputies.
Overall, the campaign was poorly financed and organised. Emphasis was placed on the party stars, rather than the rank and file trade unionists and movement militants responsible for building the party.
More importantly, moralistic attacks on the PT often formed the focus of the campaign, rather than P-Sol’s own political programme. Heloisa’s personal qualities were stressed at the expense of advancing the struggle for agrarian reform, for the non-payment of Brazil’s debt, for a reduction of the working day and for investments in public services.
The tasks for P-Sol in the next few months are clear. Party activists need to push for an honest and democratic discussion of the campaign and where the party is heading.
They need to ensure that the democratic structures are regularised at the party’s first congress in May 2007. They must shed the moralistic habits many P-Sol members brought with them when they left the PT, and refocus the party on the struggles of Brazilian workers and the social movements.