What to watch in Brazil, whoever wins

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From Flickr user Ana Paula Hirama

I do not think I need to convince you that “Brazil matters” to international development circles, so I will get to the point.

On Sunday, Brazilians voted for President, Governors and a large portion of Congress. No candidate won the Presidential election. The result will be determined in a run-off vote October 31, as a surge for Green Candidate Marina Silva against her main two competitors meant front runner Dilma Rousseff did not get over 50%.

While there are many factors for Marina Silva’s insurgent success, one of them is clearly frustration with what some voters feel is indifference to the social and environmental consequences of the economic model of agribusiness export combined with internal industrial growth and consumption. Some Brazilians have begun to question whether the “car for every worker” model is right for Brazil in the long term, and question the ideas of the two main parties about the future of the Amazon.

In late October, Lula’s designated successor Rousseff and (centre-) right candidate José Serra will battle it out.

Irrespective of the winner of the Presidential election, there are issues that our partner organisations are rightly nervous about. They are well aware that big decisions are coming up, and for these, there are no guarantees.

 Our partner organisations, especially those in the north of the country, are quite concerned about the concentration of land and the consequences of the aggressive growth of agricultural exports. Against this backdrop, the recent inclusion of  Brazilian industrial tree plantations in Kyoto-sanctioned carbon markets has set a dangerous precedent.

Moreover, proposed changes to Brazil’s forestry code will potentially have devastating consequences to rainforests, but also to urban dwellers.

Our indigenous partner organisations are also watching the debate over a mining law with great concern, as the Brazilian constitution grants the government complete control over underground resources.

High on the agenda for the new President will be tax reform, potential reform to social security. Our partners are pushing for a tax reform that is just, that does not cut dedicated funding streams for social programmes and education. It would be devastating to increase the already large tax burden on the poor – the poorest are disproportionately affected by Brazil’s high sales taxes on basic goods like beans, rice and milk.

Our partners will also vigorously defend against any attempt to undo Brazil’s unique, strong rural pension which researchers claim has silently been responsible for the escape from poverty during the past decade.

The focus on the Presidency tends to ignore that there are regional and state issues that where the Federal government can only make so much headway, where Governors and Mayors will set the tone for coming years. The housing deficit is one such issue, where President Lula’s massive programme for construction of affordable housing has had virtually no impact in the city of São Paulo due to lack of political will by the Mayor.

So Brazil watchers will have a lot to keep their eyes on as a new President takes office in 2011.

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