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Brazil’s next president faces daunting challenges
October 1, 2014, 8:05 pm

BY João Marcelo Ehlert Maia
Special to the BRICS Post

Support for Marina Silva, the Socialist Party candidate, appears to be dropping as Brazil gears up for the first round of presidential elections [Xinhua]

Support for Marina Silva, the Socialist Party candidate, appears to be dropping as Brazil gears up for the first round of presidential elections [Xinhua]


On October 5, more than 140 million elgible Brazilian voters will have the chance to cast their ballots in the first round of the country’s presidential elections.

The incumbent candidate, Dilma Rousseff, is likely to finish first but fall short of the 50 per cent +1 needed, and therefore will face surprise rival candidate Marina Silva in a second round to be held three weeks later.

Ms. Rousseff is running as the political heir of former President Lula da Silva, who finished his second term in 2010 with high approval ratings.

During his tenure from 2003 to 2010, Brazil successfully reduced poverty and inequality while maintaining very low rates of unemployment. The general mood was so positive that even the corruption scandals, which ended with the jailing of several senior members of the ruling Worker’s Party, did not significantly harm Lula or Rousseff.

However, Ms. Rousseff’s term has not been as successful as Lula’s. In the past few years, inflation has showed remarkable resilience as the economy continued to slow down. Ms. Rousseff has tried to boost much-needed investments, both private and public, but red tape and the fact that market agents distrust her economic policies damaged her efforts.

But the real challenge to Ms. Rousseff’s administration came from the streets.

The street factor

In June 2013, huge demonstrations sparked all over Brazil as millions of people voiced their dissatisfaction with bad public services, corruption and the failures of the country’s political system.

Ms. Rousseff’s popularity diminished significantly.

Marina Silva was then a popular figure. A former member of Lula’s cabinet, Ms. Silva had charisma and environmentalist credentials and thus benefited from the anti-establishment feeling that was spreading in the streets.

In 2010, she ran for president as the Green Party candidate and garnered almost 20 per cent of the vote.

However, in 2014 she failed to organize her own political movement in order to run again.

When this year’s campaign kicked off, the script was not new: an incumbent president from the center-left Worker’s Party would face an opponent from the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, both being challenged by a third candidate presented as a an alternative to the rivalry that has existed between the two leading parties since the 1994 elections.

Senator Aécio Neves was chosen by the Social Democrats to lead the center-right coalition and the third candidate this time was the young governor Eduardo Campos from the Socialist Party, who was a former member of the ruling coalition.

Unable to form her own party, Ms. Silva surprisingly decided to join forces with Mr. Campos and entered the race as the Vice-President on the Socialist’ ticket.

However, Mr. Campos tragically died in a plane crash accident in August and the script was completely changed, as Ms. Silva was soon chosen by the Socialist Party to replace him on the ballot box.

The first polls conducted days after the accident revealed that Ms. Silva would win 20 per cent of the votes if the election were held right then.

Silva’s emerging power

In the following weeks, Ms. Silva would rise to second place, posing a serious challenge to Ms. Rousseff should the election go to a second round.

As the campaign unfolded, Ms. Silva changed many of her former positions and moved more and more to the center-right, seeking to build links with the political establishment and the financial system.

Ms. Rousseff’s team reacted fiercely by calling Ms. Silva a flip-flopper and attacking her economic agenda, which was portrayed as neoliberal.

These attacks worked, and Ms. Rousseff kept a strong lead over the trailing Ms. Silva.

The latest polls show a very close race in the second round.

Brazilian electoral laws grant the two candidates equal time on television during this period, and Ms. Silva will have more time to fight back.

She will have to forge alliances with the center-right in different regions of Brazil, but at the same time she can´t lose her “anti-establishment” appeal.

Ms Rousseff, on the other hand, will probably continue to attack Ms. Silva as a Trojan horse for neoliberalism.

She will also have to reverse her own disapproval ratings, which are around 30 per cent, according to the latest polls.

Challenges ahead

Great tasks lie ahead for the future president.

There is wide consensus among economists from different sides of the political spectrum that the next president will have to carry out a complicated fiscal adjustment.

At the same time, Brazil is still a highly unequal country which suffers from problems in sanitation, education and public health; these must be addressed.

The country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and the police forces still disrespect basic rights of the poor and blacks.

The developmental strategy put forward by the Rousseff’s Worker’s Party has been successful in taking people out of poverty and turning them into consumers, but democratization still has a long way to go.

The big question will be how to tackle these challenges in the face of severe economic constraints and a political system that is currently seen by many Brazilians as dysfunctional.

João Marcelo Ehlert Maia is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at CPDOC (School of Social Sciences) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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