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latin america BRAZIL ELECTION

Macri gov't watches Brazil election with 'concern', as attention turns to Bolsonaro-Haddad run-off

Argentine government officials held an informal meeting with Jair Bolsonaro's team at the Embassy in Brasilia to discuss the future of the Mercosur and bilaterial ties with Buenos Aires.

Sunday 7 October, 2018
Fernando Haddad (left), Argentina's President Mauricio Macri (centre), Jair Bolsonaro (right).
Fernando Haddad (left), Argentina's President Mauricio Macri (centre), Jair Bolsonaro (right). Foto:File-Brazil

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The Mauricio Macri government has been debating who it prefers to see in the Planalto in Brasilia.

On Sunday, the far-right candidate for Brazil's presidency Jair Bolsonaro secured 46.7 percent of the vote against Fernando Haddad, the centre-left Workers' Party candidate, on 28.76 percent.

The Argentine government, according to sources, would prefer the "predictability" of Haddad, the former mayor of San Pablo, despite his political ties to former president and now-jailed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But it is also looking to establish contacts with his rival, the controversial former military man Jair Bolsonaro. Contact has taken place, with extreme discretion and amid interest about “knowing his ideas” on Argentina and the Mercosur trade bloc. What Argentine government officials in Brasilia discovered at a recent meeting reassured them, sources told this journalist.

Bolsonaro was still convalescing in hospital after suffering a mid-campaign attack from a protester. The meeting was informal, held at the Argentine Embassy in Brasilia. A strange sight, sources reported military men from Bolsonaro’s team lecturing about foreign policy.

The encounter served as means to understand the candidate’s position on integration, which had previously been unknown. From the subsequent report that arrived in Buenos Aires, it appears that a Bolsonaro presidency would not intend to leave Mercosur, nor break its commercial ties with Argentina which they consider "Brazil's main partner under any circumstances”. This has prompted some relief in the Macri government. On the other hand, a Bolsonaro triumph could eventually change the axis of bilateral cooperation with his team putting a lot of emphasis on Defence, the fight against drugs, and scientific work oriented towards security.

"It is impossible to see any outcome from the election in Brazil without being concerned, we will never be completely at ease,” a source from the Argentine government, with a close eye on Brazil, told this journalist. Argentine officials prefer to use the term “anxiousness” rather than “concern”. However, “there is additional uncertainty because Bolsonaro han an anti-system discourse, the dialectic in this election is not left-right but system-antisystem although it seems to me that this concern will be mitigated over time," the source concluded.

UPTURN

Bolsonaro's stabbing seemed to arouse some sympathy in Brazil for one of the most violent politicians in terms of ideas and discourse. Misogynist, sexist, racist and even golpista (in favour of coups) were some of the adjectives he has earned throughout his political career after leaving the Army. Soon after, he began to take off in the polls and although many pointed to his 28-percent voting intention as a possible ceiling, there is no shortage of Argentine government officials who think that a run-off against Haddad would favour Bolsonaro.

Haddad, on the other hand, knows Macri and had dealing with him in the past when Macri was Buenos Aires Mayor and Haddad, the Mayor of Sao Paulo. There are plenty of photos of meetings between the two and that is why many in the Casa Rosada do not hide their "preference" for the man who polled second. It is also true that they see him as a generation apart from Lula's, with PT party collaborators known for their pro-region ideas and none of them, apparently, anti-Argentina.

Of course, the internationalist in the Macri government clarifies, "there is always the possibility that he could appear alongside ultra-nationalists or that Bolsonaro, of whom almost nothing is known, will reveal himself as a statesman."

OUT OF THE RACE

The government’s preferred candidate was former governor of San Pablo Geraldo Alckmin. The problem was always that he barely scratched two digits in voting intention. President Mauricio Macri received Alckmin, the PSDB party’s presidential candidate when he launched his campaign for the Planalto for a second time, in November 2016. The first time, 10 years earlier, he had lost in the second round against Lula da Silva. For many, he was also the best option for the local and Brazilian "establishment" , due to his moderate profile and business experience.

The other man of the bill, former banker and finance minister, Henrique Meirelles, did not surpass three points in voting intention, while the social democrat Ciro Gómes, who came in third place on Sunday, was also seen with enthusiasm by the Casa Rosada. When he was in Argentina, last June, he was entertained by agri-businessmen and met with Vice President Gabriela Michetti, in addition to sitting down with opposition figures.

On his return from the UN, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie ordered a daily update on the future of the campaign with papers and weekly videoconferences with the Ambassador in Brasilia, Carlos Magariños. Like many in Argentina, they are engulfed in one of the most uncertain presidential races in the history of Argentina's main trading partner.

This article originally appeared in Spanish on Perfil.com

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