Opposition’s Aécio Neves is a moderate. His fans are a bit crazy, though

Many opposition voters had given up on senator Aécio Neves before he rose in the final week of the campaign trail and took Marina Silva’s place in the run-off against President Dilma Rousseff. “Not tough enough,” “too friendly with Lula” and “a success only at the local level” were comments that people in the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) had for him until a few days ago. But a big chunk of social conservatives changed their minds as they went to the polls and decided to go with the safe traditional antagonist instead of keeping the bet on a confused former Worker’s Party (PT) minister. The rest is history.

Now Neves is neck to neck with Rousseff in a race that is likely to be too close to call until the very end, on October 26. He has picked the endorsements of losing candidates, including Silva. He is also level with the president on free air time: now they have the same, which means, when compared to the setting of the first round, a minute less for the PT hopeful in each TV and radio program and the double for the PSDB senator. He has also made cracks on the ruling coalition, by drawing the support of politicians in the centrist and famously corrupt PMDB — no matter who wins, PMDB always wins. Neves has the momentum.

Although he has put forward some conservative agenda to oppose Rousseff, Neves is far less ideological than his PSDB rival and São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin. When governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most powerful state, he became PT’s key channel with the opposition. He never opposed any social programs; quite on the contrary. He even partnered with a Worker’s Party adversary to elect the mayor of Belo Horizonte — a move that many in both parties rejected. In 2006, he tried to found a new political party with Lula and Eduardo Campos, whose death in in a jet crash put Silva in the race. It didn’t work, but the sign was there.

To make Silva drop points in the polls and become the darling of financial markets again, Neves gave two other important signs. The first was to appoint his Finance Minister from the start: Arminio Fraga, one of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s Central Bank governors. Fraga is a total fan of fiscal tightening. He recently said Brazil’s minimum wages are “very high.” The other was to find a conservative issue that put him opposite to both Silva and Rousseff. That one was reducing minor age from 18 to 16 in cases of heinous crimes. Most Brazilians, who sponsor some of the worst prisons in the world, believe that could make a difference in their safety.

Out of those two, Neves’s agenda for Brazil isn’t that different from Rousseff’s. There would surely be relentless combat to inflation, no matter if some jobs were lost on the way. No doubt state banks wouldn’t spend much on housing, which they do now. But the senator knows that if he gets rid of the social programs there would be a massive turmoil in the country. He is also aware that he would need political support from a conservative Congress to make any meaningful reforms. If you add those elements and his moderate temper, it is reasonable to believe his presidency would be some change with a lot of continuity.

That is not what a big chunk of Neves’ base expects, though. Since former Marxist guerrilla Rousseff took office, in 2011, many fans of the PSDB have ranted about Brazil becoming subject to Cuba, establishing a dictatorship of endemic corruption and — last but not least — using cheap social programs to buy votes. No doubt all those assumptions are just pathetic (if you believe in any of them, please, try reading another blogger). But Brazilian tea party wannabes have lost grip with reality. Instead of bringing their ideas forward, they raise the volume against a center of left administration that isn’t nearly as progressive as Brazil needs.

That makes Neves’ role even more important now. If he wins, he will have to deal with the expectations of elitists who want some revenge for all the criticism they endured in the last 12 years. As a moderate, he will be either forced into respecting social improvements or into a more liberal agenda that makes Brazil more appealing to foreign capital. With a conservative Congress a few meters away, his moderation would be often challenged and concessions would have to emerge — don’t forget that if PSDB wins the Presidency, PT will still be strong in opposition thanks to the expectation of Lula 2018.

If Neves loses, he will have to fight to remain as the leader of the opposition until 2018 — when he could face conservative Alckmin for another go at the presidential elections. If Neves neglects the lunatics, Alckmin will be a clear favorite to run against Lula. If the senator just tries to calm the radicals down, he might lose them. To have the crazy anti-PT and still appeal to moderates, the former Minas Gerais governor will have to sweat. As a conciliator, he might be up for the task. As Brazilians found out, he can quietly deliver surprises.

Also in this blog: President Dilma Rousseff is a moderate. Her fans are a bit crazy, though

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email: savarese.mauricio@gmail.com

Posted on 14/10/2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. bamabrasileira

    I think Aecio has this election in the bag. I also think he is vastly different from Dilma. When I study Dilma’s populist economic policies, coupled with her political alignment with Cuba, Venezuala, and Argentina, it seems crystal clear that she is moving the country in the same direction as the aformentioned “loser” countries. Once that strong sense of populism takes hold, it’s game over for Brazil. I think a lot of people in Brazil would also like to see Brazil aligning itself more with the “west” and not ONLY the losers (Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina) and totalitatian regimes (China and Russia).

    • Mauricio Savarese

      Thanks for your comment, but, with all due respect, the clue is in the title for your Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina comparison. Cheers.

      • bamabrasileira

        I’m not sure I understand you. Are you saying she isn’t aligned with Cuba, Ven. , and Argentina? She is! And history has shown us that long running populist governments tend to fail. They are good for redistributing wealth, which was sorely needed in Brazil. But now they are running the risk of becoming like those countries, in that they use Petrobras to fund…like…EVERYTHING (hence the R$6 billion debt), while also remaining unattractive to foreign investment. We also know that government workers do not care to do their jobs properly, and that Brazilian governmental organizations do not have enough leaders who can do long term planning, execution, and problem solving. It is time for the country to swing in the other direction again – at least for now. I always get the sense that Dilma just really doesn’t know what is happening in her midst. She strikes more as a department store manager (especially after I saw her UN speech and her dismal performances in the debates) than a president who can make the tough decisions that can help Brazil get to the next level.

    • You’re right. 100%. Brasil needs to follow the steps of Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico and just forget about Mercosul. Don’t worry, Mr. Blogger, I won’t come back.

  2. To call Aécio’s voters (he will probably get close to halve of all votes even if he loses) “a bit crazy” and Alckmin “ideological” shows how divided Brazil and its commentariat has become. The PT certainly has not invented corruption, but has taken the art of robbing the state to a higher level.
    The author claims that the current administration isn’t nearly as progressive as Brazil needs. I would agree, however in order to be progressive you need economic growth. The cake needs to get bigger. And this is arguably Brazil’s biggest issue – implementing inclusive policies in a low growth environment. For the next president there won’t be much external support from Brazil’s largest export markets, the EU is in deflation, China is going lower growth and Argentina is a well-documented mess.
    The challenge is in implementing market-based reforms that increase the potential growth rate of Brazil, that cuts the size of its state and at the same time improves its performance, that creates a level playing field for enterprises as opposed to crony and oligarchic capitalism.
    Aécio appears much more capable of doing this than Dilma, you can’t seem to speak five coherent sentences in a row and needs copious notes for every debate.

  1. Pingback: President Dilma Rousseff is a moderate. Her fans are a bit crazy, though | A Brazilian Operating in This Area

  2. Pingback: Everything you always wanted to know about Brazilian elections (according to me) | A Brazilian Operating in This Area

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