Brazil: Left Join the Battle for 'Useful Vote'

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The corruption scandals that engulfed President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva and his Workers' Party (PT) government reached their height in 2005, and coincided with a crisis on the Brazilian left.

Thousands of militants in the trade unions and social movements, as well as elected officials who are from the left of the PT, abandoned the Workers' Party. The majority went on to join P-Sol, the Party of Socialism and Freedom. This year will see an election that offers many complex and difficult challenges for the left, and raises wider issues about the possibilities of regroupment.

As 2005 drew to a close, few imagined that Lula could recover from the corruption scandals - yet the latest polls show a decisive recuperation, with the largest increase in support coming from the poorer sections of the population. This has renewed the optimism of Lula's "Majority Camp", who are the right wing faction of the PT. But it has also strengthened those on the left who remain in the party and believe that Lula's government is a "government in dispute". As a result, the PT left has toned down its criticisms of Lula and, in the short term, has rejected the idea of leaving the party.

In the coming election Lula is likely to face only one serious challenger - either José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSD), who is the current mayor of São Paulo and an ex-minister in the previous Cardoso government, or Geraldo Alckmin, the current governor of the state of São Paulo, who is also from the PSD. Alckmin is a technocrat with connections to Opus Dei, the right wing Catholic sect. Which challenger Lula will face matters little - what does matter is that all the ingredients are present for an electoral polarisation between the right and the left. The political pressure for a so-called "useful vote" will be enormous, even among an electorate disillusioned with Lula.

P-Sol has successfully formed a militant pole of attraction for socialists, and has attracted thousands of people who see it as a left alternative. It is quite possible that P-Sol's presidential candidate, Heloisa Helena, will attract a significant vote and assist in the election of deputies to the National Congress. Her charisma and fighting attitude have strengthened her image, and polls show that she has around 8 percent support.

Sharp polemics

Nevertheless, Heloisa faces an uphill battle. The pressure for a "useful vote" - a vote for Lula - is one that we should not underestimate. But there are other difficulties for P-Sol. Its reputation as a "shelter" for the left indicates the political plurality inside the party. Having militants from various political traditions with differing strategies and tactics can enrich a party, but it can also bring difficulties.

In the last few months these difficulties have generated sharp polemics and internal friction that have resulted in a worrying paralysis. The party's first national congress has been continually delayed - leading to serious internal fighting that can only harm the party's political interventions. Political maturity is required to overcome these obstacles, and we must recognise the plural reality of the party by guaranteeing democratic rights for the different internal currents.

Most importantly, we must have a serious debate about our political programme so that it is relevant to the complex reality of Brazil. The revival of support for Lula does present problems for P-Sol, and this situation demands political positions that go beyond simply characterising the Lula government as "bourgeois", and the PT and PSD as "Siamese twins".

P-Sol occupies a central place in the process of left regroupment in Brazil. 2006 will be a key year - difficult, yes, but also promising.


Rui Polly is a P-Sol activist in São Paulo.