Op-Ed

Dilma Rousseff’s presidency at risk in Brazil election

CAMPAIGNING: Brazilian presidential candidate Aécio Neves, surrounded by supporters in Sao Paulo on Sunday, is waging a close race against incumbent Dilma Rousseff.
CAMPAIGNING: Brazilian presidential candidate Aécio Neves, surrounded by supporters in Sao Paulo on Sunday, is waging a close race against incumbent Dilma Rousseff. Getty Images

Aécio Neves, an economist like Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, but younger and more charismatic, could defeat Rousseff in the second round of voting on Oct. 26. At least two pollsters give Neves, the candidate of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, an almost 10-point advantage.

It will drop. That difference can be substantially reduced, and even disappear, as the attacks from the Rousseff’s Workers Party intensify, with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leading the firing squad. Neves today has the advantage of four days of positive media glory after the surprising results of the first round, so he will have to defend himself and attack if he wants to prevail on election day.

Why has Rousseff’s popularity plummeted? Because of a combination of three factors:

▪ The economy. The country is entering a recession. The productive apparatus is not growing, and exports are declining because of the cooling of the Chinese economy. Everything was a mirage. Brazil was not doing its job well; the Chinese were. As soon as China reduced its growth by one or two points, Brazil’s growth stagnated. With barely a $12,100 annual per-capita GNP, the country was creating less wealth per inhabitant than six other Latin American nations, including neighboring Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. True, by volume, Brazil has the world’s eighth-largest economy, but its per-capita ranks 105th and its growth 137th. Brazil’s productivity is 50 percent of Mexico’s and 18 percent of the United States’. Thats due to protectionism and the huge bureaucracy. The country ranks 100th on the Index of Economic Freedom, between Gabon and Benin. No wonder the poor results.

▪ Corruption. The general perception is that the governments of the Workers Party have been the most corrupt in Brazil’s recent history. According to Transparency International, when Lula took office Brazil was in 69th place worldwide. The most recent survey shows it in 72nd place. The latest scandal involves the (formerly) prestigious Petrobrás, the government’s oil and gas company. It’s a sewer of corruption. According to former Petrobrás executive Pablo Roberto Costa’s revelations, the company gave Rousseff’s party 3 percent of all contracts.

▪ Third-Worldism. Despite the disparity between the developed south and the poor northeast, the Belindia (a combination of Belgium and India) described by economist Edmar Lisboa, Brazilians have always played the Western card. Brazil was the only Latin American country to fight in World War I against Germans and Austrians, although modestly. Thus, many Brazilians dislike the Workers Party’s close relationship today with Iran, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela, as well as the sponsorship of the Sao Paulo Forum, a kind of radical, anti-Western, anti-market and anti-U.S. Internationale.

But there’s more in the international field. If Neves won the election, his victory would be a distress signal for the countries of the so-called 21st-century socialism and a clear warning that the strident, neopopulist ideological trend that ruined Venezuela is petering out.

Neves’ victory would probably influence the elections in Uruguay, boosting the candidacy of Luis Lacalle Pou, a young and energentic center-right politician who opposes Tabaré Vázquez, a 74-year-old former president who heads the Broad Front.

The tsunami would also reach Argentina in next year’s elections and would help wipe out the populist structure of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Ditto to Bolivia, where President Evo Morales will lose an ally who didn’t care that cocaine from his country would enter Brazil by the ton.

It could become a real earthquake. But first, Aécio Neves has to win.

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