The plan was the following: Deny the legitimacy of Dilma Rousseff’s 2014 election victory. Push for impeachment on a trumped-up charge (creative accounting to disguise a budget deficit). Organize mass protests against the Workers’ Party (PT) and in support of the Lava Jato (Car Wash) anti-corruption attorneys who aimed to prosecute Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s popular former president and longtime PT leader, for corruption and money laundering. Encourage big corporate media outlets, namely the all-powerful Globo network, to identify the PT as the root cause of Brazil’s institutional corruption. Drum up international support as awards piled up in the Harvard-trained Lava Jato judges’ offices in Curitiba and as The Economist glibly headlined “Dilma, time to go.”
Then, once Rousseff was removed, implement a neoliberal shock plan—euphemistically labeled by new president Michel Temer as the “bridge to the future”—with fast-track privatizations, a fire sale of Brazilian assets to international investors, draconian austerity, and labor-market deregulation. Markets would respond, and confidence would flood back. A private-sector-led economic recovery would lay the foundation for a successful presidential run by the pro-business, center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), supported by all sensible commentators in São Paulo, Wall Street, and Washington. Lula, always a threat due to that damned charisma, would, meantime, have been marched off to prison. A PSDB government, led by São Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin, would set Brazil back on the neoliberal path as the Latin American pink tide of the previous decade receded. In 2014, that sounded like a plan.
Last week, as a new set of opinion polls pointed to a second-round run-off between far-right Jair Bolsonaro and former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, candidate for the presumed-dead PT, the plan was definitively in tatters. (The first round of elections will be held on October 7; if no candidate receives more than 50 percent, a second round is scheduled for October 28. Voters will elect not only a new president and vice president, but also federal and local governors and legislators.) Alckmin is nowhere to be seen. He trails Bolsonaro by 10 points and, in an electorate that still cleaves between right and left, it is highly unlikely both can progress to the second round. The PSDB senator Tasso Jereissati publicly announced on September 12, “We made some monumental mistakes: Not accepting the 2014 election result was one (we have always been a party that defends institutions and respects democracy); supporting impeachment [of Rousseff] was another, and entering the Temer government, a third.”