Brazil’s 2010 presidential elections and the environment

How did environmental issues influence on the elections?
And how will Dilma’s Brazil handle the environment?
Based on speaking notes for the NorLARNet seminar “Elections in Brazil”, Oct 19th 2010. ¹
Beyond any doubt, Marina Silva (PV) was the main surprise in this year’s elections. She was the least known of the three main candidates; she had no influential political allies and a campaign budget only a fraction of those of Dilma Rouseff (PT) and José Serra (PSDB).
Still, she received 20 million votes, corresponding to 19,3% of all valid votes. That’s far more than all of her most devoted supporters dreamed of only six months ago.
Three questions: What happened? How did she influence the elections? And maybe most importantly: How central will she be in future Brazilian politics?
Let’s start with a chronological approach to her and her campaign:
The story of Marina Silva’s life is remarkable, maybe the only among the three main candidates comparable to President Lula’s. Born in a poor rubber tapper community in the rainforest in the state of Acre in the Brazilian Amazon, having made it to become third in a presidential election is nothing less than extraordinary.
Important pre-election milestones
  • 1994: Won a chair in the Senate. Youngest female Senator ever.
  • 2002: Reelected by a landslide.
  • 2003-2008: 6 years as President Lula’s Minister of environment. Great success in combating deforestation in the Amazon.
  • May 2008: Marina Silva left the Government claiming environmental interests were not respected. Her main opponent in the Government was Dilma Rouseff.
  • August 2009: Marina Silva leaves PT and affiliates with the Green Part (PV). Some weeks later she is presented as a presidential candidate for the 2010 elections.
Did this have any political impact?
Yes. The most important example regards climate change. Marina Silva running for president was one of the main reasons for Brazil to present ambitious targets for reductions in climate gas emissions before the Copenhagen Summit. And she managed to convince the Congress to ratify these goals, making them even more binding.
José Serra would not like to appear less ambitious. He, as Governor in São Paulo, launched equally ambitious plans for reducing emissions in Latin America’s biggest city and industrial locomotive. Important: Neither Brazil nor the state of São Paulo needed to  
Dilma Rouseff, in an act to promote her in Brazil and abroad as environmentally concerned, was appointed the head of Brazil’s delegations to Copenhagen. She did not do well. She was quoted saying “the environment is an obstacle to development”. Only a slip of the tongue?
Serra went to Copenhagen too, with a big delegation of São Paulo industrial and commercial executives.  Like Dilma, this was a part of a strategy to gain a green image in Brazil and internationally. Also Marina went to Copenhagen, supported by the environmental movement.
The three main candidates present in Copenhagen. Was this a sign of environmental issues characterizing the elections? No. But due to Marina Silva, the environment became a more important issue than it otherwise would have been. Let’s look at the elections:
2010: Election campaigns
Environmental issues were not among the most important in the elections. Environment was actually a critique used against Marina Silva, calaiming she was a “One note samba”, meaning she had neither experience nor program for other issues like public safety/violence, social security or foreign policy. That was partially a legitimate critique and one of Marina Silvas main challenges.
But Marina Silvas candidacy made environment and sustainability more central issues than they otherwise would have become. One example: All candidates publically opposed the worst proposals to change Brazil’s forest law – Código Florestal – for instance the suggestion to amnesty illegal deforestation up to 2008.
Marina Silva’s political project
Marina Silvas has started on a long journey. For the 2010 elections, the strategy was to launch herself as candidate for a sustainable alternative, aiming for a political breakthrough only  in 2014 or 2018. The remote dream was to conquer 10-12% of the votes, while Dilma and Serra shared the rest.
Marinas dream scenario was a draw between Dilma and Serra, making her an important factor in the second round. And that’s exactly what happened. But there are two main differences in relation to the predictions: She won almost 20% of the votes, not 10 or 12%. And Dilma almost won in the first round, receiving 47%, meaning she will not be as dependent on Marina’s voters to win in the second round.
For more on Marina and her new political force in Brasil:
Who voted for Marina Silva? And where will they go now?
Marina Silva’s voters are a very heterogeneous cluster. We can divide them into 4 groups.
  1. the most obvious: (younger) people concerned with environmental issue
  2. less obvious: (older) people belonging to evangelical churches,
  3. frustrated voters, tired of the antagonism PT vs PSDB
  4. urban higher middle class
Recent polls show that 50% of Marina’s voters will support Serra in the second round. 25% will vote for Dilma, while 25% are still undecided or will note vote at all.
The high support for Serra might be surprising for many, given the fact that Marina came from Dilma’s party PT. But Marina’s current base, the Green Party (PV), is traditionally a centre-right party. In Big cities like São Paulo and Rio, PV has always supported PSDB candidates. So the evangelical rural voters, the urban higher middle class voters and PV’s traditional base will go to Serra.
How is Marina trying to take advantage of her political momentum?
Marina’s plan has always been to use her votes to influence on Dilma’s and Serra’s political platforms. Five days after the first round, she published an “Agenda for a Just and Sustainable Brazil” containing the following commitments:
  • transparency and ethics,
  • Election Reform,
  • education for the knowledge society,
  • public safety,
  • climate change,
  • energy and infrastructure,
  • social security (health, social care and welfare),
  • protection of biomes Brazilian biomes (ecosystems),
  • public expenditure and tax reform,
  • foreign policy
  • strengthening of cultural and social diversity
At the same time, Marina and PV decided to call for a broad hearing among the party and their allies to define their positions in the second round. It’s obvious that Serra’s and Dilma’s answers to the “Agenda” would be decisive, but at the same time it’s obvious that at least Marina had no choice but to declare herself independent in the second round. Her campaign was focused on being an alternative to PT and PSDB, a “Brazilian third way”. All of that would collapse if she openly supported one of the two.
Both PT and PSDB answer to Marina’s “Agenda”.  October 16th, PV and Marina opt for neutrality in the second round. At the same time, PV decides that party members can openly support any candidate in national and state level second rounds. That opens up for traditional PV leadership supporting José Serra and other centre-right candidates throughout Brazil.
Mariana herself states on the following Monday that “PT has included more of our proposals”. This statement is instantly put on Dilma’s website. Indeed, PT’s answer was better. But it’s quite  obvious that Marina, between Serra and Dilma, will prefer the latter.
How will Dilma’s Brazil handle the environment?
Dilma Rouseff will win the second round October 31st. In September, The Economist described her this way: “Brazil is due to hold a presidential poll next month and the front-runner, Dilma Rousseff, has a record of favouring destructive infrastructure projects in the Amazon.”
Under Dilma, we will see a continuation of Lula’s big project: Economic growth combined with big social programs for redistribution. Dilma is former Minister of Energy and Mining, president of the board of Petrobras and the main person behind the PAC. Environment? Two scenarios, one positive and one negative:
Negative: Dilma will continue to consider the environment an obstacle to development. The Copenhagen quote was not a slip of the tongue, but what she really thinks. She will intensify the mega projects in the Amazon. Signs of this are the emphasis on PAC and most of her political program.
Positive: She will become a more consensus oriented politician, as Lula. She will be convinced by some of the arguments from the environmental side and continue Brazil’s positive trend of curbing deforestation. Signs: Her answers to Marina and PV’s “Agenda”.
Marina Silva: A new political force in Brazil?
Five months ago, I wrote an article about Marina Silva and the upcoming elections called “A new political force in Brazil?”
Today, I would cut the interrogation sign. With almost 20 million votes, she is indeed in front of a new political force. Very heterogeneous, maybe volatile, but still. She might be a strong candidate in the 2014 presidential elections, depending on at least these four points:
  1. The Green Party (PV) must be reorganized and restructured. The traditional PV appears to be a normal Brazilian political party: an ideology-poor gathering of regional leaders and groups, more focused on power, positions, and influence than on a long term political project.
  2. The broader pro Marina movement must continue to grow, especially in rural areas and among the lower middle class and the poor, and, at least to a certain degree, support PV.
  3. PV must find political allies and financial supporters to allow for a broader political coalition and a more comprehensive campaign.
  4. Marina Silva herself must stay fit (she has had serious health problems) and focused on her long term vision for a sustainable Brazil.
My prevision for 2014? A run between Dilma Rouseff (PT), Aécio Neves (PSDB) and Marina Silva (PV).

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Published on: 24. oktober 2010

Filled Under: Dilma Rouseff, José Serra, Marina Silva, valg 2010

Views: 1723

4 Responses to Brazil’s 2010 presidential elections and the environment

  1. Amazing. Fantastic. Good Sense. Unbiased or almost unbiased (but, this does not affect whatsoever the article). One of the big surprises in my life conscious activity. And you care, how do you dare?

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