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Monday, March 27, 2023

Third-age politics

Being in public life for a long time inevitably leaves you with a stained record. So why the rise of experienced politicians all of a sudden?

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João Ruy Faustino
João Ruy Faustino
João Ruy is a Portuguese freelancer who writes about European political actuality for The European Times. He blogs about movies in "O Gavião" and is a contributor for BANG! Magazine. Former film critic of Central Comics.

Being in public life for a long time inevitably leaves you with a stained record. So why the rise of experienced politicians all of a sudden?

Joe Biden’s age was a relevant issue in the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election, and continues to be to this day. One could argue that the issue has even gotten worse in these two years of governance. As gaffes pile up and Biden, well… ages – the President of the United States may have in his 80 years of life the biggest obstacle to reelection (as it has been speculated by tens of columnists and journalists throughout all American media). But the concern about age in politics is increasingly present in many western democracies.

The recently sworn in President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is also an ‘old-timer’ politician. He is relatively younger thann Joe Biden, being 77 years old, but his time in life has undoubtedly been much more eventful. Lula was born into poverty and so had to work from a very young age, quickly becoming a member of the impoverished working class. He eventually became the most important union leader in the country, even as the military dictatorship raged on. His regard among the working class led him to found PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores – Workers Party, in February 1980.

After the fall of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, Lula ran in every presidential election from 1989 to 2006, only winning two (2002 and 2006). But even after that PT’s historical leader managed to be elected in 2022, winning 50,9% of the vote against Jair Bolsonaro. 

In Lula’s case, his record was simultaneously an advantage and a liability. On the good side, his 8 years in power coincided with unprecedented economic prosperity, this helped fund social programs that took millions of Brazilians out of poverty. In line with the economic growth, Lula managed to move away from his radical left past, and adopt a realpolitik to social-democratic policy. This made the Brazilian elites, businesses, and the agricultural sector way more at ease in relation to PT.

But on the other end Lula’s governance saw the rise of corruption throughout all the branches of government. Lula not only seemed inefficient in dealing with economic crime, as he was charged with corruption himself, under ‘Operation Car Wash’. He tried to run for President again in 2018 but was arrested, he spent 3 years in jail before being released in 2021 with the totality of his political rights restored. 

If there are not too many worries about his extensive curriculum there are even less about his capacities. Brazil’s President has been as active and loud as ever in the last year, and is expected to continue so. Despite the Globonews anchor detecting some “mumblings” during his inauguration speeches, the level of scrutiny isn’t nearly as high as with Biden.

Jean Charest is another example of a long-time politician that rose (and fell) in 2022. Despite not being nearly as old as the other two examples, he is only 64 years old, he is considered a ‘dinosaur’ in Canada. This is because he’s been actively and consistently present in Canadian politics since the last decade of the previous century. “He is an insider’s insider who, if elected prime minister, would give President Biden a run for his money as the North American leader with the longest political career.”, wrote J.J. McCullough in The Washington Post about Charest. He was the youngest cabinet minister in Canadian history, way back in 1986 during Brian Mulroney’s prime ministership. After that he served briefly as Deputy Prime Minister, before being called to ‘save’ the PC Conservatives after a disastrous result in the 1993 election. He was leader for 5 years before entering Quebecois provincial politics for good (through the Quebec Liberal Party). He was Quebec’s Premier from 2003 to 2012.

His comeback this year was due to a leadership election in the Conservative Party of Canada, where he ran against the front-runner Pierre Poilievre. His campaign pressed on centrism and moderation, in opposition to Poilievre’s more populistic and aggressive style of politics. But his effort failed miserably, as Poilievre crushed the opposition with 68% of the vote. Charest even struggled to get the 2nd place, he managed to get 16% of the vote, not much ahead of Dr. Leslyn Lewis, who got 9.6%.

In European countries with Presidential or Semi-Presidential systems this subject is even more prevalent. The former Portuguese President, Mr. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, raised several questions about his capacities to serve when he collapsed during a speech. The Czech President, Miloš Zeman (78) was momentaneously incapacitated during the pandemic and even had to be in a wheelchair. And the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella is 81 years old, and his mandate still has 6 years left.

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