Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday won a second term as the leader of the world’s fourth largest democracy in the closest presidential elections in this country in more than two decades.
Her triumph came despite a sluggish economy, corruption allegations, discontent over the quality of public services and anger over the government’s handling of two major international sporting events – last summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Still, the victory will place Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party in power for 16 consecutive years, an unprecedented stint at the helm of Latin America’s largest economy.
With 98 percent of the vote counted, Rousseff, 66, an economist who became Brazil’s first female president in 2010, had won 51.45 percent. Her opponent, Aecio Neves, a senator and former governor of Minas Gerais state, an important mining center, received 48.55 percent, according to the country’s electoral officials.
Neves conceded shortly after the results. In brief remarks to supporters, he said he had called Rousseff and “wished her success in the conduct of her future government.”
As expected, Rousseff performed best in the country’s northeast, which has had an unprecedented economic boom and seen poverty drop and its middle class expand in the 12 years that Rousseff and her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have been in power.
She also appeared likely to have won Minais Gerais, where Neves had been governor.
Her win was due in large part to the belief among many voters that she remained the better candidate to decrease social and economic inequality in Brazil, which still remains high and is a fundamental issue in a large developing country like Brazil.
“She favors the most needy and vulnerable,” said Rousseff voter Daniel Theodoro, 39, after he voted near Sao Paulo’s Plaza Republica in the run-down old historic center here.
Another Rousseff supporter Gabriela Luz, 29, said she thought Rousseff’s government was more representative of Brazil. “I fear a government of Aecio represents a step backwards, and will be a government for the minority,” she said.
Corruption and the stalled economy remain concerns, said Ms. Luz, who voted at the Colegio Sao Luis in the Bela Vista neighborhood in Sao Paulo. But she said she expected Rousseff to do a better job on those issues in her new term.
Given the narrow margin of victory, Rousseff is likely to have to build bridges to Neves’ Brazilian Social Democratic Party, a centrist party that has long been a bitter rival of the leftist Workers’ Party.
In trying to unseat Rousseff, Neves campaigned on the economy, which contracted in the first two quarters of this year, hurt in part by the decline of global commodity prices and the impact of the slowing of growth in China, a major Brazilian trading partner.
The government’s handling of Petrobras, the state-run oil giant also became a major election issue and was pushed hard by Mr. Neves. In addition to facing more recent corruption allegations, the company’s bottom line has been hit hard going back to 2012 and oil production has sagged, forcing it to import oil.
Rousseff was particularly vulnerable on the Petrobras issues because she had chaired the oil company’s board of directors before becoming president – a position that her supporters widely touted during her first presidential campaign.
Now she’s embroiled in allegations of a kick-back scheme involving the company.
Neves voter Celia Fidol, 47, who also voted at the Colegio Sao Luis, said Rousseff’s handling of Petrobras was the main region she voted for her rival. “The PT just broke Petrobras,” she said, referring to the Workers’ Party by its Portuguese initials.
Her views were also representative of many upper and some middle class Brazilians, particularly in Sao Paulo state, the country’s largest electoral state who have simply tired of Rousseff’s party being in power. “I just want to be free of PT,” she said.
The election campaign had been filled with drama. In August, one of the candidates, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash. His running mate, Marina Silva, took his spot on the first-round ballot for the Socialist Party and was expected to challenge Rousseff in the runoff. But she came in third behind Neves in the Oct. 5 balloting.
Silva, who’d served as environment minister under Lula, endorsed Neves as did Campos’ widow, lending credibility to worries among Brazilians who consider themselves leftists or progressives that Rousseff’s Workers’ Party had abandoned them.