Intro Note: Boletim O Trabalho (Portugal) interviewed Anísio G. Homem, member of the Paraná Workers Party (PT) State Executive Committee, on the results of the first round of the October 7 presidential elections in Brazil and on the continuity of the fight against far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
BOT: How do you explain the fact that Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate, came out significantly ahead of the PT candidate, Fernando Haddad, in the first round of the presidential elections?
Anísio G. Homem: To begin with, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of the vote totals. Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), obtained 46.03% of the valid votes, while Fernando Haddad of the PT obtained 29.28%. The percentage of registered voters who did not show up at the polls was 20.32%, and the percentage of spoiled ballots was 8.79% — meaning that a total of 29.11% of the registered voters did not vote for any of the presidential candidates.
In São Paulo, the most important state in the country, abstentions and spoiled ballots totaled 31.46%. In São Paulo, Bolsonaro obtained only one-third of the vote, while close to one-third did not vote at all. It is not a question of denying the significance of the vote for Bolsonaro, but of showing the true scope of his vote.
It is also necessary to understand that the rise of Bolsonaro occurred against the backdrop of a series of fraudulent measures enacted by the State, the most important of which was the decision by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to ban Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva from running for president — and even from granting interviews to the press from his jail cell. In addition, 3.3 million voters were removed from the voter lists in a totally shady operation involving the biometric registration process.
In my view, the leadership of the PT chose the wrong strategy when it decided 18 months ago to focus on preparing the presidential election campaign in October 2018 instead of focusing its energies on building a broad-based campaign to demand “Fora Temer! — that is, “Out with the Coup Government of Temer Now!” The illegitimate government of Michel Temer was rejected by 96% of the population, largely because of its stringent fiscal austerity policies.
A full-out campaign around “Fora Temer!” would have brought in the “middle classes” and could have created a formidable force capable of ousting Temer and all the corrupt coup-plotters. That would have galvanized the majority of the people in the fight for democracy and basic rights. The powerful nationwide strike on April 28, 2017, showed that there was a real willingness by the working class to engage in such a course.
But by not choosing this fightback strategy, the PT leadership appeared to many people — mainly in the middle classes — as an accomplice with the corrupt sectors of the political establishment so deeply hated by the people. This allowed Bolsonaro, even though he is a man of the regime, to appear as “anti-establishment” and as the only person capable of putting some order in the house.
BOT: And what about the PT vote?
Anísio: Haddad’s vote showed that a high percentage of the votes that would have gone to Lula did not migrate to Haddad, his replacement. We should recall that in August 2018 all the polls showed that Lula was expected to win the presidential election in the first round. His projected vote totals were twice as high as Bolsonaro’s. What is very worrisome is that Haddad lost to Bolsonaro in São Bernardo do Campo, a working-class city and birthplace of the PT, also the city where Lula lives.
The campaign of the PT in the first round of the election did not prioritize confronting Bolsonaro on the central issues facing working people: better wages and working conditions, defense of pensions, preservation of the 13th month of wages, improvement of public services, etc. Instead, priority was placed on the very diffuse questions of proper political behavior.
This allowed the former Army captain to dribble around the fact that he, as a federal deputy, voted in favor of all the anti-people (and hated) measures enacted over the past 18 months by the coup government, and that he has pledged to the financial markets that if elected he will carry out all their anti-worker directives. In fact, General Mouráo, Bolsonaro’s vice-presidential running mate, has called for ending paid holidays and the 13th month of wages.
BOT: What will it take for the PT to win the vote of those 30% of the electorate who either abstained or cast spoiled ballots?
Anísio: It is likely that you will find among those 30% a considerable number of PT voters who have drifted from the PT, disillusioned and frustrated by 12 years of PT governments. The three successive PT administrations did not respect the mandate that the PT voters had placed in them. They failed to confront Big Business and implement measures that responded to the profound needs and aspirations of the people.
They failed to enact an agrarian reform law, increase social spending (instead of paying back the exorbitant interests on the foreign debt), renationalize the Vale do Rio Doce (Brazil’s iron-mining reserves), end the fire-sale of the oil drilling and refining, reduce the work-week to 40 hours, enact the long-awaited political reform (to put an end to the current institutions inherited from the military dictatorship) and convene a Sovereign and Exclusive Constituent Assembly, tax the rich and ban tax evasion, regulate the corporate media, and so much more.
If he is to have any chance of beating Bolsonaro in the second round of the election on October 28, Haddad has to confront the pro-Big Business policies that are the core of Bolsonaro’s objectives, masked though they are by his emphasis on the “fight against crime and corruption.” Bolsonaro represents the continuity with the heinous fiscal adjustment policies so despised by more than 90% of the population. This needs to be stressed time and again.
Haddad, moreover, must reject “advice” from the media and from many political quarters calling upon him to “move to the center” and not criticize Bolsonaro’s “free market” program. Haddad is being told by his “allies” that he should accept the “reform” of Social Security and pensions and not reverse the concessions granted to foreign transnational corporations for drilling rights in the deep-sea waters. He is being “advised” to curtail labor rights and end paid holidays and the bonus month. He is being summoned not to reverse Temer’s law that freezes social spending for 20 years, thus strangling public services.
And some of this is already having an effect. Haddad just declared, under pressure from the PT’s alliance with the PDT (the party of Ciro Gomes), that the PT is dropping its call to convene a Constituent Assembly, a position that was adopted at the PT 6th National Congress: “We have revised our position,” Haddad stated. “We will seek to implement the reforms through Constitutional amendments.” The progressive reforms that Haddad talks about will not be approved, however, by one of the most reactionary and backward Congresses in recent memory.
Having said all this, the task of the hour is to campaign for a Haddad victory. We can do a more fined-tuned assessment of the situation following the second round of the election.
 Not surprisingly, the 3.3 million people who were dropped from the voter lists on account of “irregularities” with their voter-registration “biometrics” process (photo, signature, birth certificate) were concentrated in Brazil’s northeast, where the PT has traditionally been very strong.
 A call to forge a “broad and democratic anti-Bolsonaro” front was issued only a few days after the first round of the elections by Jaque Wagner, who was elected Senator from the state of Bahía on the PT slate. Wagner is calling on former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ciro Gomez (PDT), and environmental activist Marina Silva to come together in a broad “popular front” to defeat Bolsonaro. Wagner is quoted in the October 10 issue of O Globo newspaper as saying that, “Haddad must now be more conciliatory and less Lula. … He must stress the fact that he won multiple awards for being fiscally responsible as former mayor of São Paulo.”