Bye-Bye, Outsiders! Brazil Election Field Set to Shrink Further

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(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s presidential election race is quickly thinning and will ironically leave only seasoned politicians able to win a race marked by deep-seated, anti-establishment sentiment.

Last week two hopefuls dropped out -- a plastic surgeon and a former Supreme Court justice who had 10 percent support in polls without even campaigning. In February a TV celebrity dropped out and last month former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was jailed, effectively removing the front-runner from the race. More departures are expected, particularly among centrist parties, according to half a dozen senior lawmakers and government officials.

The trend benefits the remaining middle-of-the-road candidates -- former Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin and former Environment Minister Marina Silva -- by eliminating their most immediate competitors, says Marco Antonio Teixeira, professor of political science at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a business school and think tank. Chances of a newcomer in the Oct. 7 election have now evaporated, he argues, not least because only candidates already in a political party may run.

“Bye-bye, outsiders,” Teixeira said by phone from Sao Paulo. “The candidacies that benefit are, respectively, those of Marina and Alckmin, who are trying to place themselves between the extremists."

Center Consolidation

On the center-left is former Ceara governor Ciro Gomes and on the far right is former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro, a long-time legislator whose politically incorrect blasts and tough stance on crime have propelled him to the front of the polls.

The center should become even less crowded soon. President Michel Temer has already signaled he’s likely to ditch his bid, while lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia and former Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles will likely be forced out as well, according to three leaders in their respective parties. All three are stuck at the bottom of the polls.

“Maia, Temer, and Meirelles all put their names forward but they don’t enjoy real support from their parties,” said veteran lawmaker Miro Teixeira. “The only centrist candidate who has the backing of his party is Alckmin.”

Maia said by e-mail that there is no discussion of his dropping out. Meirelles said by phone that the majority of his party supported him and that his poll numbers would rise once he started campaigning.

The total number of presidential candidates should fall to 10, about half the initial figure, by the time parties hold their conventions in July, according to Nilson Leitao, leader of Alckmin’s PSDB party in the lower house.

In addition to the ban on independent candidates, the prohibition of corporate donations has made it even more difficult for outsiders to enter the race.

No Money

"Parties have limited resources, they choose between a shot at winning the presidency of the Republic or maintaining control over important states," Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes told Bloomberg News. "It’s not easy being an outsider in this system."

While there may be fewer centrist names, the remaining candidates have yet to prove that they can rally markets and voters alike. Alckmin, popular on financial markets, has stagnated in the polls; Marina Silva polls better but has little investor support.

“There hasn’t been any centrist candidate with enough votes, we need someone able to excite the electorate,” said Fabio Ramalho, deputy leader of Temer’s MDB party in the lower house. “The center needs a candidate with an anti-corruption message, those who keep talking about markets won’t win over voters.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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