Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is set to achieve a major political victory on October 3, if opinion polls are to be believed, with his designated heir Dilma Rousseff well on course to being elected president.
Former government chief of staff Rousseff, 66, was until recently unknown to most Brazilians. But she now appears to have inherited with great ease Lula’s record popularity ratings -- which stand at 79 per cent according to the latest opinion polls.
In just four months, the centre-left Rousseff sprang from less than 30 per cent in vote intention to 51 per cent, which would give her the presidency without the need for a second round of voting.
The ease with which the ruling-party candidate is progressing is a major cause for concern within the ranks of the centre-right opposition coalition, which fears the polls may turn it into an irrelevant political organization.
In the home stretch of the campaign, the coalition that backs Rousseff’s main rival Jose Serra is trying to blame her party, the Workers’ Party (PT) founded by Lula, for having violated the tax privacy of Serra and his family and allies.
The scandal emerged in June, when rumours broke out that ruling-party campaign coordinators were working on a portfolio to damage Serra’s reputation. It grew stronger in recent weeks, after it was confirmed that federal tax officials irregularly gained access to confidential information on the opposition politician.
The right—wing coalition asked electoral officials to investigate the case and withdraw Rousseff’s candidacy.
“This is no longer just about winning or losing the election, but about protecting democracy,” said Sergio Guerra, one of the leaders of the opposition coalition.
Both Rousseff and Lula have denied any involvement in illegal activities, and Lula ordered federal police to investigate the matter. The probe will continue until after the election.
Brazil’s top political analysts agree that the scandal will not affect Rousseff’s solid course to a first-round win, since she currently has a 24-percentage-point lead over Serra, according to opinion polls.
Analyst Elio Gaspari, of the daily O Globo, says the ongoing campaign is marked by Lula’s influence: The president requests the vote for his favoured candidate, “and a large portion of the electorate, conscious and satisfied, says they will heed the request with great pleasure.” “A month ahead of the election, the PT is celebrating,” agrees analyst Fernando Barros e Silva, who notes that Lula hopes “to slaughter the opposition” at the polls. Lula feels proud to have Rousseff as his candidate, despite the reservations of some sections within the PT, Barros e Silva recalled.
Although there is no official confirmation, political analysts say Lula is now focusing on the Senate race, with two thirds of the 81 seats in the chamber up for grabs on October 3. Now that Rousseff’s win appears to be in the PT’s pocket, Lula wants to reduce the “firing power” of his party’s main ally in Congress, the centrist Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB).
According to analysts, Lula will devote the last few weeks of the campaign to bracing the positions of leftist Senate candidates who are ideologically closer to the PT, to grant Rousseff more leeway once she is in power.
PMDB leaders refuse to comment, and stress that they consider their party a “partner” of the PT in government. However, PMDB veteran legislator Henrique Eduardo Alves warned Lula that a “betrayal” of his party will “logically generate a reaction.”