Archive for November 12th, 2009

‘Lightning strikes’ hit Presidential election race

November 12th, 2009

Getting their heads together. Lula with Dilma

Getting their heads together. Lula with Dilma. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva finds himself having to shield his preferred candidate to replace him from criticism, after late night power cuts hit 18 states across Brazil earlier this week.

Before she became Lula’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, who is being treated for lymph cancer, was energy minister, but the president says he won’t be ready to apportion blame until the facts are known.

With Brazil, hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2012 and having last month been awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, the government will be keen to head off any suggestion the country’s ability to do so is in any way compromised by the events of Tuesday night.

Well before the Olympic announcement, the issue of power cuts was a politically sensitive one.

Instances during the previous government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was in office for eight years until the end of 2002, prompted finger pointing and accusations of a lack of planning.

‘Rationing is bungling’

“Today we have an inter-connected Brazilian electricity system,” President Lula said. “In this last seven years we have put in place approximately 30% of what was done in 123 years.”

Claims of progress appeared to be backed by ABDIB, the body representing the infrastructure building sector, which like many others is calling for a far-reaching investigation.

Presidential elections will be held at the end of next year, with Dilma trailing in the polls behind frontrunner José Serra, in a race that has been billed by observers as a contest between two competent administrators lacking in charisma.

Though the government insists the problems do not stem from her watch, Dilma was notified in July of the potential for a blackout.

“A blackout is a thing that no one can say won’t happen. What I promised is that there will not be rationing. Rationing is bungling,” said Dilma, who is aiming to become Brazil’s first female head of state.

Dilma, like others, is citing lightning strikes as the most likely cause, something dismissed by the National Airspace Research Institute, which provides satellite data to meteorologists.

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Until more is known about the incident, Serra, from the PSDB party, was careful not to blame the government, but with close to half the national electricity capacity affected, he said it is vital to get to the bottom of the matter quickly.

“We have to know what happened so measures can be taken,”  Serra, the governor of Sấo Paulo state (pictured right) told reporters.

Political stress

The incident, which left 60 million people without light and also fed through to water supplies, has put increased strains on the relationship between Lula’s Workers Party PT and rival PMDB with which it has forged an often shaky alliance.

Should Dilma win power, her party is expected to remain dependent on PMDB to get legislation through the Senate – a source of anger for her party and those in Brazil, who see PMDB as opportunists from a bygone age doing little promote development and prevent corruption.

The president was heavily criticised from all sides for sticking with the alliance through a corruption scandal, which for a time this year threatened to topple Senate President José Sarney, before charges against him were dropped.

As part of earlier efforts to smooth relations with Sarney and his PMDB party, Edison Lobấo was installed as energy minister, when seats in government were handed out.

How Lula now deals with Lobấo could have a significant impact on that alliance.

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