Cardoso faces challenge to fulfil promises of reform

First Edition

IN A country controlled by conservative elites, Brazil's president-elect, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, is going to have a hard time balancing promises to modernise the growing economy with promises to fight for social justice.

With 54 per cent of ballots from Monday's election counted, results showed that Mr Cardoso had taken the lead with 54.5 per cent of the votes, while his chief rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the left-wing Workers Party (PT), had 26.1 per cent.

Mr Cardoso claimed victory on Thursday. At his first press conference he announced - much to the consternation of his right-wing backers - that his government's chief task would be to fight Brazil's grave problems of hunger, injustice, poverty and one of the most unequal distributions of income in the world. 'We have to lead the country democratically to get greater equality, more economic growth and a greater presence in the international scene,' he said.

Mr Cardoso was supported at the polls by the well-heeled and the destitute. He swept to victory on the strength of a stabilisation plan that he designed as finance minister. The plan reduced inflation from 50 per cent in June to 1per cent last month.

His overwhelming success was also due, in part, to the alliance of his centrist Brazilian Social Democrat Party (PSDB) with the right-wing Liberal Front (PFL). Critics and political analysts now warn that the price of that alliance may be an inability to implement his promises of social reform. Already, PFL leaders have been demanding their reward in cabinet posts. One of the party's most powerful figures, Antonio Carlos Magalhaes, said that he wanted to see people from his home state of Bahia in 'prominent places' in the new government that takes office on 1 January.

However, Brazil's politics are unpredictable and often chaotic, a factor that many observers say could play into Mr Cardoso's hands. The PT is in some disarray after Monday's poor showing and seems prepared to co-operate. Even before the elections, Mr da Silva and other left-wing party leaders were talking about co-operation.

Mr Cardoso assumes office with a strong political mandate and even an informal understanding with the PT could counterbalance the pressures he will face from the right. But the possibility of a broad-based government that would include the PT has already made some powerful enemies. The right-wing Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper has warned that such an outcome would be a 'betrayal' of the voters' choice.

Mr Cardoso said he supported opening up state monopolies in oil and telecommunications and has advocated tax and budget changes and an overhaul of health and welfare systems; the reforms were not necessary to the success of his stabilisation plan. 'We're going to carry out reforms, the process of holding down inflation is independent of that,' he said. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the creation of a leaner and more efficient federal government. This includes privatising state business and eliminating a mass of government regulations that have spawned their own industries. Mr Cardoso's only hope, analysts say, is to use his mandate now to tap into whatever spirit of co-operation and reconciliation exists, because the longer he waits, the greater his problems will become. 'His government may be hostage to powerful conservative forces,' said Domingos Armani, a Brazilian political analyst in London. 'On the horizon there is a great risk of an institutional political crisis, precisely because of this.'