Americas

Rousseff to face pro-business candidate in Brazil runoff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, presidential candidate for re-election of the Workers Party (PT), talks about the results of the general elections during a press conference, in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Official results showed Sunday that President Dilma Rousseff will face challenger Aecio Neves in a second-round vote in Brazil's most unpredictable presidential election since the nation's return to democracy nearly three decades ago.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, presidential candidate for re-election of the Workers Party (PT), talks about the results of the general elections during a press conference, in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Official results showed Sunday that President Dilma Rousseff will face challenger Aecio Neves in a second-round vote in Brazil's most unpredictable presidential election since the nation's return to democracy nearly three decades ago. AP

Brazilians on Sunday chose President Dilma Rousseff and former Gov. Aécio Neves for an Oct. 26 runoff, dealing a stinging rebuke to the once-surging candidacy of socialist Marina Silva.

The election for the presidency of South America’s largest country will now be between the two parties that have controlled the office for almost two decades. Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party, became the election’s wildcard when she was elevated to the head of her party’s ticket after her running mate died in an August plane crash. At the time, she rose rapidly in public opinion polls and until recently, most Brazilians expected a runoff between Silva and Rousseff.

Rousseff, who represents the Workers’ Party, received 41 percent of the votes, with Neves of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party taking 34 percent, and Silva, 21 percent.

Expedito Rodrigues de Miranda, 61, a home repairman, said he happily voted for Rousseff on Sudnay and wanted the Workers’ Party to stay in power. Another term for Rousseff would be the fourth for the party, which touts dramatic reductions in extreme poverty through government programs such as the Bolsa Family (Family Purse), a conditional-cash transfer to low-income mothers that requires them to keep their children in school and current on vaccinations.

“My motive (for voting for Rousseff) is because everything is just fine,” Miranda said. “Twelve years they’ve been there. I don’t have a reason to complain. My salary has gone up 300 percent.”

Rousseff’s performance was strongest in the country’s north and northeast, while Neves performed well in the center-west and parts of the south and southeast. Silva only outperformed the two in the small Amazonian state of Acre, her home state, and Pernambuco in Brazil’s northeast, where her running mate Eduardo Campos had been a popular governor until his August death.

Even as Neves came in second, the campaign was dominated Silva’s meteoric rise and fall. From an impoverished family of 11 children and illiterate until age 16, she would have been Brazil’s first president who identifies as black — this in a country where more than half the population is non-white.

But Silva lost her edge as the election neared and as her campaign looked increasingly erratic to voters. She alienated former supporters on the far left by changing her position on supporting gay marriage after pressure from Evangelical leaders and appealing to banking and business leaders as she mounted a challenge to Rousseff. On the other hand, Silva also was eager to prove that she would not end the Workers’ Party’s social welfare state, which then pushed her away from more conservative Brazilians.

Patricia Caetano, 37, a human resources analyst in Rio de Janeiro, said she was undecided between Neves and Silva until the most recent presidential debate, when Silva proposed a “13th salary” — a reference to an extra monthly salary given to workers usually at the end of the year — to recipients of the Bolsa Família. Caetano saw the proposal as a needlessly populist bid.

“I think we need real jobs and schools that are actually good,” she said.

Neves, an economist and former governor of the state of Minas Gerais, is very familiar to Brazilians. He’s the grandson of Tancredo Neves — the first civilian elected president after its 1964-85 military dictatorship, who then died suddenly of an illness before taking office. Neves worked as his assistant.

Neves’ Brazilian Social Democracy Party, referred to locally as the Tucanos, won two terms from 1995 to 2003 with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and is regarded as Brazil’s most pro-business party.

With Silva out of the runoff, speculation began immediately over which candidate she would support. Silva was an environment minister in the Workers’ Party government of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, but had a bitter break with the party when she quit the cabinet in 2008. In 2010. she ran for president as a member of the Green Party.

The race has now come down to the two parties that have controlled the presidency for the past five terms, even a year after Brazilians went to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in anti-government protests. The protesters in 2013 varied in their demands and political stripes, but a central theme was low quality of services, such as public health, education and transportation under governments seen as corrupt and lavishly spending on privileges for elected officials.

For Silva’s voters, who not only supported the candidate but hoped for some sort of viable change in the now-routine Workers’ Party-Tucano politics, Sunday’s vote represented a missed opportunity to break with the past.

“We are in a democratic system and the PT [Worker’s Party] would want to be in power for 20 years,” said Ana Deveza, 56, in a reference to rumors that Lula da Silva would run again in 2018.

Deveza, a teacher, said Silva’s campaign was an opportunity for Brazil to have “new politics” and “a chance to have turnover.”

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