Why you should care
Because he has managed to revitalize one of Brazil’s poorest states — and now has plans to run the country.
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He’s young, handsome and business-savvy. Eduardo Campos seems to have it all to win — or so he hopes. The blue-eyed, beloved Brazilian governor is getting set to take on popular president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s next election.
Campos, who was part of Rousseff’s ruling coalition until September as leader of the Socialist Party (PSB), decided to run for office and challenge the highly bipartisan system established between Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT) — in government since 2003 — and the Brazilian Social Democrats (PSDB), who governed from 1994 to 2002.
Perhaps best described as a pragmatic socialist, Campos stands for the merits of free trade and private investment while also championing education and aggressive antipoverty policy. He is not afraid to talk like a businessman or would-be economics professor about “efficient macroeconomic policies” and “improved management standards.” But his detractors’ criticism is one not often heard about a socialist leader — that he’s not doing enough for the extreme poor in his home state of Pernambuco.
Campos is a pragmatic socialist who is not afraid to defend the merits of free trade.
The numbers are promising, however: The state, which he’s governed for five years, is one of Brazil’s historically poorest. But these days it’s booming, with 25 percent of the country’s industry share, thanks to his policies.
His secret? He’s unafraid of private foreign investment. “We have no prejudice against collaboration with the private sector,” he told the Economist. To that end, Campos has brought private managers into hospitals and improved middle school education by raising teachers’ salaries and using incentive-based bonuses inspired by the private sector.
He believes this is the surest way to reduce poverty. “Education is key. It liberates people, families and communities from misery once and for all.” Meanwhile, he is also helping the states’ economy grow at a rate of 5.1 percent — way above the 3.7 percent national average.
Voters rewarded his unique approach — a combination of old-fashioned politics and modern business acumen — by re-electing him in 2010, with 82 percent of the vote.
His financial knowhow stems from his degree in economics from the University of Pernambuco, but Campos’ political vocation runs in his blood. The son of a former government and federal deputy, it was his grandfather, the beloved politician Miguel Arraes, who influenced him the most. “From him, I learned politics is about bringing people together.”
At age 21, he worked for his grandfather’s gubernatorial campaign and, after that, his career hit the fast track toward becoming the state deputy to the secretary of finance of Pernambuco. In 2004, he was chosen by President Lula da Silva as to be the minister of science and technology, where he led popular initiatives, including the relaunch of Brazil’s space and nuclear programs.
Despite his soft voice, big smile and dreamy blue eyes, Campos rarely sugarcoats his discourse.
In theory, Campos’ well-rounded background and record of economic success should make him an irresistible presidential candidate, but the polls seem to disagree. The latest numbers predict a Rousseff win with 58 percent, followed by Aécio Neves (leader of PSDB) with a 10 percent and Campos with just six percent.
But João Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst for the Eurasia Group think tank, says Campos has a communication problem. “He sounds too vague. He’s been all over the place, and people haven’t been able to detect a clear message.”José Roberto de Toledo, a political writer for the newspaper O Estado, dismisses these figures, noting that it’s far too early to make assumptions. “Dilma is strong now, at the beginning of the race, but what matters is the end result. The second round could be risky for her because it will give time for the voters to reflect and for other candidates to threaten her.”
And while big business loves his pragamatic economic methods, even business leaders were left a bit confused by his unexpected alliance with a popular ecologist, Marina Silva, with some worrying Campos may go “too green.” And, it’s not just big business who have expressed concerns. The left also seems hesitant to embrace him at a national level, despite his regional success, because some see him as a bourgeois without any meaningful political proposals beyond improving macroecomic indicators.
He has been accused of not doing enough to tackle poverty, and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) is calling him a “spoiled playboy” and someone with “no design, no content, and no political composure.”
Campos has fired back, accusing President Rousseff of steering away from her initial pragmatism, for which she is known, and being “short-termist.” “She’s a manager instead of a chairman of the board. That can only turn out badly,” he remarked, referring to her heavy hand in the economy.
Despite his soft voice, big smile and dreamy blue eyes, Campos rarely sugarcoats his discourse. He recently declared it was “necessary to overcome the celebration of mediocrity” and described the World Cup as “an opportunity for us to do what should have been done but lacked money,” referring to the idea that Brazil should have invested more in mass public transit in the runup to the sporting event.
His presidential program is equally straightforward. He wants to optimize public services like health and education, ameliorate the country’s transport infrastructures and attract more foreign investment.
Bringing the Pernambuco model to the national level, he trusts, will reduce inequality and boost the economy without the need to raise taxes. Campos’ impressive financial track record could be his winning card, especially if the economy worsens, but Campos says he doesn’t want to run on fear but on hope.
“We will win by showing that there is a new, sure way forward. And that this new way will inspire enthusiasm in Brazil, among Brazil’s young, [its] artists, intellectuals, workers and entrepreneurs.”
In a country of 200 million, standing against Rousseff’s momentum will be difficult, particularly since she enjoys the support of ex-president Lula, who remains the nation’s most popular politician. Still, Campos trusts the electorate will look beyond the usual parties that “have already given Brazil all they had to give” and embrace his innovative program.
We will have to wait until October to see whether Brazil is ready for a change or prefers to give Rousseff another term in power.
For now, Campos doesn’t seem too worried about his flagging popularity in the polls. As a pragmatist, he knows that what matters is winning elections, not polls.