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Dark Horse Poses Serious Challenge in Brazil’s Presidential Election

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Oct 7, 2014, 10:09 am
Brazilian Social Democrat Aécio Neves earned a surprise second-place finish in Sunday's election and will now face Dilma Rousseff in a presidential runoff.
Brazilian Social Democrat Aécio Neves earned a surprise second-place finish in Sunday’s election and will now face Dilma Rousseff in a presidential runoff. (Orlando Brito)

EspañolAs Panamanian musician Rubén Blades wrote in his famous song Pedro Navaja, “life will give you surprises.” The truth is life never ceases to surprise us, least of all in the world of politics.

Leading up to the first round of Brazil’s presidential elections on Sunday October 5, few imagined that Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves — who most polls had positioned well out of the race over the last two months — would leap ahead to become President Dilma Rousseff’s opponent in an election runoff.

Following the tragic plane crash that killed former governor of Pernambuco and Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) presidential candidate Eduardo Campos on August 13, the up-and-coming politician Marina Silva dedicated herself to the PSB cause.

Silva quickly became an early favorite in the polls, rising rapidly in popularity and running neck and neck with Rousseff. Although support for Silva tapered off in the weeks leading up to election, Neves appeared well behind both Silva and Rousseff in prospective votes. Now that the first round is said and done, however, it is the Social Democrat candidate who will face off with the president on October 26.

Of course, Dilma Rousseff did receive the most votes in the first round with 47.59 percent, and is the favorite to win the runoff. Prior to the phenomenon that was the environmentalist Silva, who ran more on charisma than party strength, the Workers’ Party machinery was moving forward full throttle. However, the president’s momentum has since stalled, and reelection will not come easily for her.

Rousseff now finds Aécio Neves in a stronger position than expected, with the best chance of regaining the presidency for the PSDB in quite some time. Brazil’s Social Democracy Party has not held the presidency since the Fernando Cardoso administration (1995-2002), but it remains the biggest threat to the relatively new Workers’ Party (PT), championed by former President Lula da Silva in 2003.

The grandson of Tancredo Neves — Brazil’s first civilian president after two decades of dictatorship (1964-1985) — has now emerged from the first round with greater support than even his own party expected.

At his point, an alliance between Aécio Neves and Marina Silva is highly likely. Aécio reached out to the charismatic environmentalist during his first speech after Sunday’s results. Although Silva has yet to respond, Lula’s former minister and those who support her are more likely to ally themselves with Neves than Rousseff.

Marina Silva, who earned 21.32 percent of Sunday’s votes, has denounced the PT for being “disproportionately violent” in its attacks against her, some of which came from Dilma Rousseff herself. In her first public speech after the results, she said bluntly that “the people voted for change and against what is wrong,” referring to the Rousseff administration.

Many of the Brazilians who voted on Sunday are the same who have recently gathered in the streets throughout the country’s largest cities to protest the government’s blatant corruption and lack of ethics, as well as unresolved health and education issues.

Most of the Brazilian middle class finds itself very discontent and disillusioned with the ruling party’s third consecutive term in office, which has shown clear signs of fatigue.

The remaining weeks leading up to the runoff will be marked by bitter and hard-fought campaigning, much like the weeks preceding last Sunday’s election. Dilma Rousseff has already begun by telling the public that Neves represents a Brazil of the past, and that the country must not be allowed to move backwards.

But Brazilians want change, and Neves has positioned himself as the young leader of a new generation of politicians. While Marina Silva fell short in challenging Rousseff and embodying the change the country craves, Aécio Neves may be able to deliver.

Translated by Peter Sacco.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.