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Brazil’s next president has a rocky road ahead

Dilma Rousseff

Will Dilma Rousseff still be Brazil's president after the election? Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação under a Creative Commons Licence

On Sunday 5 October, Brazil goes to the polls. The ballot will choose the president, state governors, federal deputies, senators and state legislators.

The most important vote by far is for the country’s presidency. Eleven candidates are fighting for the post, of whom three should obtain more than a handful of votes: current President Dilma Rousseff (from an alliance led by the Workers’ Party), Marina Silva (Brazilian Socialist Party, PSB) and Aécio Neves (Brazilian Social Democratic Party, PSDB).

After weeks of heavy political turbulence, it seems likely that Dilma Rousseff will be re-elected. Her victory would secure the fourth consecutive federal administration led by the Workers’ Party, after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victories in 2002 and 2006.

The build-up to the election was overshadowed by the mass demonstrations which took place across Brazil last year; the failure of the call for protests ‘against the World Cup’, which were intended to bury the PT candidate once and for all; and the meteoric rise and staggering fall of politician Marina Silva.

Marina is an ascetic popular leader from the Amazon, and a strict Seventh Day Adventist. She rose in the Workers’ Party as an environmentalist with extensive connections to international NGOs, and gained a positive reputation among the urban middle class.

She served as Minister of the Environment in Lula’s first administration, where she had no measurable impact. Marina subsequently left the government and the Workers’ Party and ran as the Green Party candidate against Dilma in 2010, when she obtained 20 per cent of the ballots in the first round, against the PSDB’s José Serra’s 32 per cent.

Marina subsequently used social networks in order to set up a new political party, the ‘Sustainability Network’ (Rede de Sustentabilidade). Since the Rede was unable to obtain the 500,000 signatures required to register a new party before the elections, Marina sought political asylum in the PSB, and obtained the vice-presidential position on their ticket.

Sadly, the party’s leader and presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in an air crash in August. Marina immediately stepped up to become the party’s presidential candidate, even though she has no substantive attachment to the PSB.

In the following days, her party’s popularity soared from around 8 per cent to over 30 per cent, with opinion polls suggesting that Marina would trounce Dilma in the second round of the presidential elections. But reality intervened.

Soon enough, Marina managed to antagonize the leadership of the PSB, exclude loyal party cadres from her campaign, import neoliberal economists to run her programme, and demonstrate an unmitigated inability to explain her own programme of government.

She has struggled to minimize the significance of her conservative religious values, which have led her to oppose abortion and gay rights in the past; however, she could not talk about the economy either, since her overtly neoliberal platform remains deeply unpopular.

Meanwhile, the ‘real’ neoliberal candidate, Aécio Neves has continued to flounder amid repeated accusations of personal improprieties. The substantive identity between his economic programme and Marina’s has not helped either of them to establish a claim to govern the country.

While Aécio’s poll ratings have remained stagnant below 20 per cent, Marina’s vote intentions have imploded in the final stretch of the campaign.

In the meantime, Dilma’s government has continued to struggle against a slowing economy and the aggressive lack of confidence of large capital, finance, the media and the middle classes.

Despite these limitations, during the last decade, Brazil has achieved unprecedented improvements in the distribution of income and wealth; unemployment has fallen sharply despite the adverse impact of the global crisis; a universal welfare state has become consolidated in the country, and wages and benefits have risen significantly.

From the point of view of the workers and the poor, the list of achievements of the Workers’ Party administrations is both long and significant: more could, and should, have been done, but there is no realistic alternative for the Left in these elections.

The Brazilian experience during the last decade demonstrates the feasibility of policy alternatives to neoliberalism, and it supports and inspires more ambitious political experiences in Latin America and elsewhere.

If the current government lost the elections, this would demoralize and disorganize the Brazilian Left, give a new lease of life to neoliberalism, and halt the slow progress towards the consolidation of social democracy in the country.

Severe economic, social and political problems await the winner of these elections.

Brazil has struggled to raise investment rates, which languish around 18 per cent of GDP, while in successful East Asian economies, rates twice as high are usual.

The country’s balance of payments remains fragile, the political system is gridlocked and its economic and social infrastructure remain precarious. Urban areas suffer from accentuated degradation; land reform has barely advanced in years; corruption is rife, and the media wages a relentless war against the federal government.

There are ample reasons for discontent, and the press makes sure everyone hears about them every single day. Addressing these difficulties will be both expensive and politically difficult. There will be no plain sailing in the next four years.

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