Brazilians Opt for Wealthy Populist

PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THOUGH the votes aren't fully counted in Brazil's Dec. 17 presidential election, all of the reliable exit polls have awarded the win to Fernando Collor de Mello, candidate of the Party for National Reconstruction. The local Gallup Institute indicated that Mr. Collor won with 51.4 percent of the vote against 48.6 percent for his opponent, Lu'is Ign'acio da Silva. In the final weeks of the campaign, Mr. da Silva had begun to close an initial 10-point gap between himself and Collor, the leader. But analysts say the last televised debate - which Collor is widely thought to have won - halted da Silva's rise.

Research shows that Collor owes his advantage largely to rural voters, who saw in him a more familiar sort of politician and who feared social turmoil with a win for da Silva's Workers' Party. Brazil's elite, except for some intellectuals and artists, also supported Collor, because he proposes not to modify capitalism in Brazil, but to get government out of the economy. In contrast, da Silva, a socialist, won over many urban workers and slum dwellers by promising to impose a ``social function'' on business to narrow the country's huge gap between rich and poor.

Until now, the Workers' Party played a minor role in national politics. But the coalition it built to capture close to half of the vote in this second round of the election is expected to be a major force during Collor's term. Analysts say that the left could win many seats in the October 1990 congressional election, only seven months after Collor is to take office. In that short time, Collor may not be able to show enough results to keep the electorate behind him.

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Collor has promised growth in the national production of goods and services from $352 billion this year to $517 billion in 1994. He has promised that per capita income will go from $2,448 a year to $3,280. And he says he'll get inflation down from 40-plus percent a month to 35 percent a year.

In his program, Collor plans to spend $94 billion on social needs over his five-year term. The funds are to come largely from better tax collection, savings on renegotiated foreign debt, cutbacks of government administrative spending, and privatization of state-owned companies.

The $111 billion foreign debt is to be renegotiated on a case-by-case basis, between individual debtors and creditors. The federal government is to remove its guarantee on the debt.

Brazil's economy has been in trouble for almost a decade. Economists agree that the main problem is government spending, which causes inflation. The military government, which left office in 1985, was unable to put the knife to an entrenched bureaucracy and the web of private interests which depend on it. Jos'e Sarney, a civilian president who was not elected by a direct vote, also tried and failed.

Collor is betting that, as Brazil's first directly elected president in 29 years, he can do better. He speaks of a ``credibility shock'' and says his lack of political alliances gives him the freedom to do more. But even many of those who voted for him say their past experience makes them skeptical.

Collor's two-year term as governor of the poor northeastern state of Alagoas is not much proof of his ability. Collor did slash the salaries of many so-called ``maharajahs,'' the overpaid state workers he campaigned against. But critics say he only further impoverished the state.

``There was a 50-percent drop in the value added tax revenue,'' says Jos'e de Mello, a counselor at the agency which oversees state funds. ``Public investment in education and health is zero.''

Indeed, a visit to the so-called ``tent city'' of Alagoas flood victims finds families that have lived in tents for almost two years. And work at the state capital's hospital for emergency treatment is ``like being in Vietnam,'' says its director, Jos'e Pinto.

For many Brazilians, Collor's most worrisome attribute is his personality. Interviews with family and close associates show him to be an introvert surrounded by a circle of trusted friends who went to high school with him. Many stories are told of his explosive temper and inability to listen. His brother, Pedro, who directs the family-owned TV station in Alagoas, says, ``He has a nose for politics,'' he adds. ``It's something connected with God, it's the only way to explain it.''

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