Yearender: Political uncertainty perplexes Brazil as 2018 elections near

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-29 12:35:55|Editor: Liu
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by Edgardo Loguercio

BRASILIA, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Brazil is immersed in political uncertainty as next year's general elections in October loom, with no clear candidates in sight.

So far, there's little hope that the elections will be able to lift Brazil out of a political crisis sparked more than one year ago by the questionable impeachment of ex-president Dilma Rousseff, and the designation of Vice President Michel Temer as president.

As a leftist activist-turned-Brazil's first woman president, Rousseff was ousted by a conservative Congress eager to pursue more business-friendly policies.

Corruption scandals and power struggles have tainted even Brazil's most popular political figures, making Brazilians more skeptical of their system of government than ever before.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who served the country from 2003 to 2010, for example, continues to enjoy the support of progressive Brazilians as the head of the Workers' Party (PT).

The only problem is he has been convicted of accepting bribes from a construction firm, which will end his bid for re-election if he loses his appeal. A court is expected to rule on his appeal on Jan. 24.

Lula was convicted in July of corruption and money laundering as part of Brazil's massive graft investigation. If the conviction is upheld, Brazil's related law would bar him from running.

Political scientist Luciano Dias, of CAC Consulting, said it's likely the court will uphold his sentence.

"That means he will be pigeonholed by the Clean Record Law, meaning he will be ineligible in Brazil to hold any public office for eight years," Dias told Xinhua.

"But Lula is still going to play a leading role (in the elections) because the PT controls about 12 percent of the national vote," said Dias, who believed all of the leftist parties in Brazil together represent around 20 percent of votes.

Ricardo Caldas, professor of political science at the University of Brasilia, agreed Lula will probably be disqualified and that will open the field to numerous candidates.

"The main scenario is a fragmented scenario. Should Lula not be able to run, that is going to distribute the votes among many candidates. For me, the novelty would be to see him absolved, but that's less likely," said Caldas.

With Lula out of the picture, the next logical favorite could be Sao Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin, whose state is Brazil's most populous state, home to a fourth of all registered voters, Dias said.

A member of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party, Alckmin is known to many Brazilians. He ran before, losing by a scant margin to Lula in a 2006 runoff. His current post serves as a perfect springboard to the presidency.

But he is also facing serious charges of corruption linked to public sector contracts.

In fact, polls show the next favorite would-be candidate after Lula is former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed "Brazil's Donald Trump."

"Bolsonaro is really a surprise. He is more popular than one would expect from a candidate with his characteristics," said Dias.

However, "it's tough to say whether he is going to maintain this level of votes when the campaign really gets underway," he added.

And it remains to be seen who Temer's government backs as candidate.

For Caldas, the contest will pit a government-sanctioned candidate that promises to continue the social security reforms Temer is pursuing against a moderate center-left candidate that may embrace some, though not all, of those reforms.

"I think the reformist agenda is going to continue, no matter who is elected," said Caldas.

"Even ex-president Lula himself demonstrated in the past that he could defend unpopular measures, like when he maintained taxes on consumption ... counter to the stance of his own party," said Caldas.