The announcement by TV presenter Luciano Huck on 16 June that he will not run for president in October 2022 prompted an immediate reaction from the political Center. Huck, who had toyed with the idea since before the last elections, was seen as one of the several potential contenders of the “silent center” – i.e., the political share of the electorate that remains averse to voting for either President Jair Bolsonaro on the far-right or former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the left-of-center when elections come. As previously discussed, the Center failed to reach the run-off in the last elections due to the sheer number of candidates who shared the anti-Bolsonaro and anti-Workers’ Party (PT) vote.
Both Bolsonaro and the PT have been able to count on one third of the electorate each as their unwavering supporters, which should be sufficient once again to ensure both the current and former president reach the run-off in October 2022. The only chance the political Center has is to coalesce around one strong name that could do more than just attract the remaining third of the voters. This is indeed a tall order but efforts are emerging to try and work a successful centrist strategy.
On 16 June, leaders of seven centrist parties gathered to discuss the need to create a “Third Way”: the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party), the DEM (Democrats), PODEMOS, CIDADANIA, the PV (Green Party), the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), and SOLIDARIEDADE. The center-left PDT (Democratic Labor Party) from fourth-time presidential contender Ciro Gomes was invited but did not attend. The meeting reinforced the consensus among those present that something needs to be done to ensure a flight away from “extremes”. As expected, no names emerged as the silver bullet just yet.
There is no reason to believe that there will be such a bullet at all by 2022. Firstly, there is not, among names polled so far, a candidate that stands out among the pack who could hold enough weight to rival Bolsonaro or Lula. Secondly, there are no foreseeable conditions for new names to emerge. Thirdly, there is no sign that the PSDB or the PDT might refrain from fielding their own candidate; the PSDB has at least two (Sao Paulo governor Joao Doria and Rio Grande do Sul governor Eduardo Leite) and intends to hold a primary next October; the PDT is settled on the candidacy of Ciro Gomes, a party VP, who remains the biggest obstacle to any alternative “third way” solution besides himself. Fourthly, parties such as the MDB and the DEM are profoundly divided across all three “ways”; in the case of SOLIDARIEDADE, a majority still prefers to support a Lula candidacy.
Polls have shown that amid signs of economic recovery, Lula has lost ground to Bolsonaro in simulations of a first-round election: from 34% in March to 31% in June. It is too early to say what is momentary reaction (in relation to Lula’s re-emergence, for example) or consistent trend. However, it remains difficult to imagine so far that either contender will need to worry about a centrist threat if current conditions persist for much longer.