Photo Jonathan Blair

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Now the question is: What kind of regime will Dilma head?

The latest polls are crystal clear: Dilma Rousseff is heading for an assured victory, probably in the first round of the November elections in Brazil.

The debate is now moving to the type of government that Dilma will head. Two big questions dominate that debate: 1) What role Lula will play, and 2) What will the PMDB need to play along?

The Lula issue is tricky. Critics have been saying for a while that he wants to come back in 2014 and could thus not allow Dilma to become too autonomous. In yesterday's Estado de Sao Paulo, political scientist and PSDB sympathizer --and possibly still member-- Bolivar Lamounier paints the picture of an emerging semi-authoritarian regime, along the lines of the old Mexican PRI "model". The key is the articulation by the PT of unions, social movements, state institutions and companies, along with allied parties, into an overwhelming political force that pushes the opposition to the margins. He sees Lula playing a key role in that construction, controlling from the sidelines through his prestige and influence in the "civil society" part of that big conflation. The idea is quite compelling, for it is difficult to see how Dilma could confront Lula given his influence in the PT and his ability to launch massive social mobilizations through his links with the unions and social movements. In many ways, this would fit his main strengths better to stay in charge of something, a-la-Putin, with all the dreary administrative stuff that comes with it. He would strictly do politics.

This analysis fits quite well with the demise of all those rumours about Lula's hopes of becoming Secretary-General of the UN. Indeed, leaving aside the fact that he doesn't speak English and has shown little interest in the minutiae of diplomacy or administration, there is no reason to deny Ban Ki Moon the standard second term in his position --a denial that would anyway be received as a shocking slight by South Korea-- and above all, the recent row over Iran's nuclear program has clearly dampened the P5's enthusiasm for Brazil and for Lula personally, who engaged personally and very publicly in the whole discussion. With the UN out, it becomes almost impossible to find a place for Lula outside Brazil that would fit his now considerable ego.

Now, would Dilma play along? What's in it for her? Being the first woman to become Brazil's president and barely keeping the seat warm for the big man to come back does not quite fit with the trajectory and the personality of a woman who is very bright, clearly independent-minded and apparently quite a decisive and even authoritarian manager. Moreover, it is far from clear that no constituency exist, within the PT, the Congress and Brazil's electorate, for her to build a government that would bear her very own mark.

Interestingly, a big boon in her quest for autonomy from Lula could come from the PT's main partner in this year's electoral coalition, the PMDB. Indeed, the traditional vultures of Brazilian politics are back, this with Michel Temer as Vice President and likely with the largest representation in both chambers of Congress. The party has already staked his claims on important chunks of the next government, beginning with the Ministry of Finance and the core policy-making team of the new President.

Assuming she is "her own woman," and not a lulista hack, the key for Dilma would thus be to arbitrate the lulistas and the old clientelist crowd of the PMDB, so as to manage both the street and Congress.

I will leave it at this for now, but "stay tuned", because the parallel drawn by Lamounier with Priista Mexico is worth going back to.