Election fever drives Brazil nuts

As the eyes of the world slowly drift away from South America and the dust settles on what, after much scepticism, turned out to be an exciting, smoothly run World Cup, Brazil has little to celebrate.

p.15 ministerio da cienciaThe once rosy economy entered recession at the end of August and inflation remains at a discouraging 6.5%. A series of high-profile scandals and evidence of increasingly sadistic policing brings into question its improvements in democracy and human rights. Its coming of age moment is beginning to raise concerns; their humiliating defeat in the semi-finals merely echoing the sentiment of a country failing to live up to expectations.

In this backdrop of uncertainty for the world’s seventh largest economy and with an equally disenchanted population to match, Brazil holds its Presidential elections in a campaign certain to define how the country approaches the next four years.

On paper, the election will see the incumbent President Dilma Rousseff and her left-wing Worker’s Party (PT), pitted against the leading opposition centrist Brazilian Social Democrat Party (PSDB), led by the financially cautious Aecio Neves.

However, a tragic plane crash in August killed the third party candidate, Eduardo Campos of the Socialist Party (PSB), forcing the nation into mourning and unexpectedly reopening the election to the chagrin of the two leading parties.

The PSB’s obvious choice – and perhaps easiest – was Campos’s running mate and former government minister, Marina Silva. An unconventional environmentalist, Silva is also renowned for her anti-establishment credentials and strongly evangelical convictions. After running for the Greens in 2010, after a highly-publicised split with the increasingly corrupt Rouseff administration, her nomination has been treated with both excitement and caution.

The greatest amount of caution comes from those with vested interests in getting the Brazilian ‘miracle’ back on track. With growth figures hitting 7.5% just four years ago, some are questioning if the much lauded, creative development projects, which helped cut poverty by almost a half in the past decade, are no longer sustainable. The subsidisation of consumer products has become a norm, but their untouchable nature has spurred inflation; an increase of bus prices last year led to over two million protestors heading to the streets in anger.

For those who believe Rousseff’s policies are seemingly failing to control an out-of-control economy and believe that Neves will merely cut subsidies (seen as a vital safety net against Brazil’s increasingly expensive cost of living), Silva is seen as the third way.

It is this which represents the greatest issue for Rousseff’s hopes of re-election. Brazilians are keen for change. In an interview for the newpaper, El Pais, Renato Meirelles from think-tank Data Popular, said that her appeal attracts “the angry, the young and the educated”. Her “third way” can be seen as both a protest vote and a logical approach for those fatigued with ingrained corruption from the leading parties.

As 5th October quickly approaches, Silva will have to work hard to win over detractors from the two main parties and reassure Brazilians that she has a realistic solution to reinvigorate the country’s economic potential, whilst reiterating her rhetoric of lessening the power of political hierarchies.
Potential voters are eyeing her candidacy with optimism. Silva knocked Neves out of second place within two weeks, closing in on Rousseff with polling figures of 26% to 37% in mid-September. In the likely scenario of the election heading to a second round, Silva will secure enough votes to take the Presidency.

However Meirelles warns that “her image, the myth of Marina, is superior to her as a candidate”, the question is whether the opposition will use the time to dispel the myth or the voters will decide she is the real deal.

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