Brazilian presidential candidates promise lack of change we can believe in

The two most prominent presidential hopefuls in the upcoming Brazilian elections have launched their campaigns. Now each is fighting tooth and nail to prove one thing: that he or she is the most cautious, the most predictable, the most moderate candidate of them all. In the past, elections in Brazil have tipped in favor of ...

VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

The two most prominent presidential hopefuls in the upcoming Brazilian elections have launched their campaigns. Now each is fighting tooth and nail to prove one thing: that he or she is the most cautious, the most predictable, the most moderate candidate of them all.

In the past, elections in Brazil have tipped in favor of candidates championing change -- but that was when the tectonic shifts those politicians promised seemed the most expedient solution to faltering markets, raging social tensions, and the crippling effects of corruption, fascism, and military interference.

In many respects, current president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- who enjoys overwhelming approval ratings, despite several corruption scandals -- has reversed Brazil's bad fortunes: his pension systems and social programs have eradicated historic inequalities and kept the economy growing at a rate of 5.6 percent each year since 2003. Now that they are enjoying peace and prosperity relative to the tumult of past decades, Brazilian voters don't want change (except maybe a World Cup redux). They want Commitment to Continuity, not Audacity of Hope; security and certainty, not inspiration and innovation. And their politicians are happy to placate them.

The two most prominent presidential hopefuls in the upcoming Brazilian elections have launched their campaigns. Now each is fighting tooth and nail to prove one thing: that he or she is the most cautious, the most predictable, the most moderate candidate of them all.

In the past, elections in Brazil have tipped in favor of candidates championing change — but that was when the tectonic shifts those politicians promised seemed the most expedient solution to faltering markets, raging social tensions, and the crippling effects of corruption, fascism, and military interference.

In many respects, current president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who enjoys overwhelming approval ratings, despite several corruption scandals — has reversed Brazil’s bad fortunes: his pension systems and social programs have eradicated historic inequalities and kept the economy growing at a rate of 5.6 percent each year since 2003. Now that they are enjoying peace and prosperity relative to the tumult of past decades, Brazilian voters don’t want change (except maybe a World Cup redux). They want Commitment to Continuity, not Audacity of Hope; security and certainty, not inspiration and innovation. And their politicians are happy to placate them.

Worker’s Party candidate Dilma Rousseff is Lula’s hand pick and the fondly proclaimed "Iron Lady" of South America. Her opponent? Brazilian Social Democratic Party candidate José Serra — an experienced former secretary of state with an obstinate support base. Both have capitalized on the public’s demands for continuity, portraying themselves as the ultimate political nonentities in the media. Rio de Janeiro is plastered with posters of Rousseff, hand-in-hand with a grinning Lula. The imagery fuels speculations, to the satisfaction of some and the disdain of others, that she is her predecessor’s political puppet. Meanwhile, though Serra criticizes aspects of Lula’s government and does promise greater government efficiency, suffice it to say that many of his posters read "The same as Dilma but different" ("The same as McCain but different" bumper sticker, conversely, would probably not have been a winning slogan for Barack Obama). Neither candidate deviates significantly on any major issue, and both reflect increasingly centrist tendencies.

Keep an eye on these intriguing anti-change campaigns as they approach the October 3 elections in Brazil. It will be interesting to see — seemingly in lieu of any meaningful dissonance — the reason on which constituents ultimately hinge their votes.

Sylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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