Brazil’s democratic revolution

THE Left has brought about transformation.

IT was a handsome victory. Dilma Rousseff, who spent three years in jail under Brazil’s military dictatorship, swept to power on Monday, winning 56 per cent of the vote in the presidential run-off against a moderate, conservative challenger.

Rousseff’s transition from armed insurrectionist to head of government parallels the development of Brazil from autocracy to emerging economic superpower. Her victory confirms the model that Brazil provides to the region as a stable, well-governed constitutional democracy.

Rousseff was the candidate of the left-wing Workers Party. Having served two presidential terms, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was ineligible to stand for a third.

His presidency exemplified an important development in Latin American politics. A generation ago, the continent was populated by dictatorships; today, Cuba is the exception to democratic rule. And because Latin America is beset with extremes of wealth and poverty, democratic politics needs a strong Centre Left.

The Left in Latin America is diverse, however. There is a Left that recognises the huge gains in living standards from integration into the global economy, the damaging consequences of inflationary public finance and the importance of constitutional norms. And there is a Left that is profligate, populist, authoritarian and viscerally anti-American.

Da Silva’s presidency proved to be the outstanding Latin American example of government of the first type. He surprised business by showingthat a left-of-centre administration could pursue social reforms while managing the economy responsibly. Rousseff, to be Brazil’s first female president, fits that pattern.

Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world and is home to 190 million people. It has benefited from the recent strength of commodity prices, which has boosted export earnings in agricultural produce and oil.

Brazil has economic problems. But in a generation, Brazil has gone from being one more debtor nation to having a crucial role in the global economy. Da Silva and his presidential predecessor, Fernando Cardoso, put the emphasis on macroeconomic stability as a precondition of improving living standards and paying for social programs. And in da Silva’s presidency the poverty rate declined by 24 per cent.

Democratic government is about more than elections; it is also about the stable transfer of power and the maintenance of social cohesion. Brazil in 2002 and Chile this year are examples of former dictatorships that have become not only democracies but also genuinely pluralist societies.

When Rousseff was a revolutionary, much of the Left in the developed world saw the struggle in Latin America as an example to be emulated. Of all the great historical ironies, this turned out to be true only when the Left understood the revolutionary potential of constitutional politics.

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