Brazil moves left.
For two decades Brazil's high command has chosen presidents from its own ranks and has rigged the rules of the electoral game to keep the National Congress under the control of a political party that backs the dictatorship. But a long economic recession and widespread popular dissatisfaction with authoritarian government has dulled the generals' taste for politics.
Earlier this year, a broad-based coalition of moderates, labor unions and members of the Socialist International and other left-wing opposition parties stepped up pressure on the military government for direct elections. More than 200,000 people protested in the streets of Sao Paulo in January, demanding an end to military rule. It was the largest public demonstration in Brazil's history. Similar rallies took place the following weeks in other parts of the country. The demonstrations expressed the opposition's swelling demand for direct presidential elections. But in April, the Congress voted down a constitutional amendment that would have allowed such elections.
Brazilians remember the taste of democracy they got in November 1982, and their appetites have been whetted for more. In the first nationwide open elections since 1962 they chose senators, governors, members of Congress and mayors. The popularity of those elections and the precedent set by the election of Raul Alfonsin in Argentina last year caused the Brazilian generals to bend slightly. They have permitted a special convocation of the electoral college on January 15 to choose a successor to President Joao Baptista Figueiredo. Since the majority of the body belongs to Figueiredo's Social Democratic Party (P.D.S.), the opposition charged that the move would insure the ruling party's continuance in power.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the college. The P.D.S. nomination was captured by Paulo Salim Maluf, whose aggressive, free-spending campaign style, Reaganish economic views and controversial record as Governor of Sao Paulo State produced such a hostile backlash among all sectors of the population, including the business community, that many P.D.S. delegates to the college have defected to his opponent, Tancredo Neves. Unless the generals call off the indirect election at the eleventh hour--which is highly unlikely--the election of Neves, a political warhorse backed by the left as well as by moderates and anti-Maluf business interests, is assured.
Neves has made clear that he will be a caretaker. He has promised to call a constitutional convention to eliminate the broad authority bestowed by the military on its handpicked presidents and to mandate direct elections for his successors. He has also vowed to shorten his own six-year term.
The opposition parties in Brazil know they must move slowly. Neves has made clear, for example, that there will be no trials of military leaders as in Argentina. Still, the elections in January represent a first step on the long, difficult road back to representative government. A successful transition will invigorate democratic forces throughout the hemisphere.