President Fernando Henrique Cardoso led Brazil from 1995 to 2003. He succeeded in implementing a tough austerity package thanks to his support from the multi-party coalitions he had built within the government, and his engagement with business and the new middle class. His efforts led to greater stability and social inclusion, and solidified the public’s commitment to economic liberalisation. President Luis Inacio Lula, his successor, despite being from the opposition, adopted Cardoso’s reforms, and this macro-economic continuity enabled Brazil to flourish.

To outsiders, these achievements suggest that Brazil can serve as a model for other developing democracies. However Brazilians do not see themselves that way: the ongoing reform needs—corruption, inequality and stagnation—continue to challenge the country’s prosperity.

Melo argued that President Dilma Rousseff risks going down in history as the weakest president in democratic Brazil. She has started her second term amidst “a perfect storm” of public protests, corruption scandals, and a fragmented legislature. Brazil may seem to be on the verge of crisis, but there is a silver lining. Its system of checks and balances remains strong and deep-rooted social beliefs will ensure fiscal responsibility. While Melo does not expect President Rousseff to achieve major reforms, he does not predict any big crises, but rather a ‘business as usual’ term. Any significant reform will have to wait for the next election.

This discussion launched Melo’s paper on Brazil—Building Coalitions for Reform in Brazil—the first in a series of case studies on building coalitions for reform. The series is organised by the Legatum Institute's Transitions Forum, the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, and World Affairs. It explores the politics of economic reform in developing democracies and what lessons can be learned for coalition development during difficult reform processes.

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About the Speakers

Marcus Andre Melo is a Professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Pernambuco and a former Fulbright Scholar at MIT. Previously, he was a Coca-Cola Company Visiting Professor at Yale University and a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and a resident Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation. He is co-author of Making Brazil Work: Checking the President in a Multiparty System (2013) and Beliefs, Leadership and Critical Transitions, Brazil 1960-2012 (forthcoming in 2015).

Anne Applebaum is the Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute. She is also a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and the author of several books, including Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction as well as other awards. She is the recipient of the Cundill Prize for Literature for her most recent book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56.

Christopher Walker is Executive Director of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, a leading center for the analysis and discussion of the theory and practice of democratic development. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy.com, Barron’s, The Far Eastern Economic Review, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Journal of Democracy, and World Affairs.