In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Brazil leader down but not out by World Cup loss

The conventional wisdom is that Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup has created an unprecedented climate of gloom that will affect President Dilma Rousseff’s chances to win reelection in October. But the conventional wisdom may be wrong: there are several reasons to believe that she may still win a second term.

Shortly after World Cup host Brazil, the favorite to win the trophy, was demolished by the German team in one of the most stunning results in soccer history, Brazil went into a national crisis mood. Even before the game was over, when Germany was winning by 5-0, disgruntled Brazilian fans started chanting anti-Rousseff slogans, and posted pictures on Twitter showing the president climbing the ladder of a helicopter, as if she were fleeing the country.

While political analysts concede that adverse results in previous World Cups have not affected Brazilian elections, most agree that this time is different. Never before had Brazil’s team suffered such a crushing defeat in the final stages of a World Cup, and — must important — never before had it happened at home.

Rousseff’s previous efforts to associate herself with a winning national team and a successful World Cup will come back to haunt her, Brazilian analysts say. Amid the current state of national dismay, the issues that had triggered national protests before the World Cup — such as the massive overspending and corruption surrounding the construction of World Cup stadiums — will come back to the surface, they add.

In addition to the widespread criticism that government spent $11 billion in soccer stadiums and other public works that in many cases will go wasted — several Brazilian cities, including the capital, have built giant stadiums that remain largely empty after the World Cup — instead of improving education and health services, Brazilians are angry over a stagnant economy that will only grow by about 1 percent this year.

Even before the World Cup, a Pew Research Center poll concluded that “the national mood in Brazil is grim,” and that 72 percent of Brazilians were dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country.

But there are several reasons why Rousseff, who according to pre-World Cup polls had her wining nearly 40 percent of the vote, may still be able to win reelection, most likely in a second round vote.

First, Rousseff was scheduled to host at least 15 heads of state — including the leaders of China, Russia, Germany, South Africa and several Latin American countries — for the World Cup final and an ensuing July 15 summit of the BRIC countries, the group of emerging powers made up of China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil.

This will help Rousseff look presidential and present herself to the Brazilian people as a world leader, which should help her start putting Brazil’s World Cup sorrows behind. The BRICS summit is expected among other things to announce creation of a $50 billion development bank.

Second, Rousseff will enjoy twice as much free time on television than her closest rivals. Under the country’s electoral system, which awards free television time to political parties, Rousseff’s leftist ruling coalition will have 11.5 minutes of the daily 25-minute free political propaganda blocs, while her closest rival, centrist Aecio Neves, will have a two-minute slot. That may help Rousseff climb in the polls as the election nears.

Third, Rousseff’s Bolsa Familia subsidies to about 15 million of Brazil’s poorest families, and her recent announcement that they will be increased, will help her drive supporters to the polls. The ruling Worker’s Party is also hoping to secure a high turnout among its supporters by claiming that opposition candidates scrap the Bolsa Familia program. Rousseff’s biggest rivals have denied such claims, calling them “electoral terrorism.”

Fourth, while Rousseff is not a charismatic leader, she has the active backing of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who despite his controversial foreign policy stands in support of some of the world’s worst dictatorships, remains highly popular at home.

“If you took Lula out from the equation, Dilma (Rousseff) would be politically dead by now,” Brazilian political analyst Paulo Rabello de Castro told me.

My opinion: If Rousseff’s chances to win reelection were of 60 or 70 percent before last week’s soccer debacle, I would put them at 51 percent now. It’s going to be a much tighter election than it looked before the World Cup, but — for now — I still expect her to win by a hair, for the four above-stated reasons.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

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