In the first round of the Brazilian presidential elections last Sunday, October 5, the results were “logical”: President Dilma Rousseff (PT, the Workers’ Party), standing for re-election, will face ex-governor of Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves (Brazilian Social Democracy Party – PSDB) in the second round on October 26. The results were 42% of the electorate (over 43 million votes) against 34% (almost 35 millions) respectively. These are the two contending parties since 1994 (with victories of the PSDB in that year and in 1998, and the PT winning in 2002, 2006 and 2010).
Put this way, after it took place, it sounds simple, but it was not foreseeable during the 45 days of intense campaigning that ended Sunday. In this period, environmentalist Marina Silva, former minister in the Lula government and PT militant from 1980 to 2008 (candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party – PSB), first had the lead in voter adhesion (for the second round), and then maintained second place. Up until the last week, everything indicated that she would face Dilma in the run-off.
She presented herself as the representative of a “new politics’, rejecting the “old polarization” PT vs. PSDB that, according to her, had paralyzed the country for twenty years. She attempted to present herself as a “third way” (neither PT nor PSDB) and as an expression of the huge protests that shook the country in June of 2013. But in order to establish herself as electorally viable, she joined pragmatically with the conservative forces that wanted her to win because they thought that the PSDB would not be able to defeat the PT. But her image shattered under a mass of contradictions, under the bombardment of the PT and of the PSDB, each collecting old debts from their own side.
Marina won 21%, 22 million votes (about the same as she had in 2010). Numerically, these are decisive votes for October 26. But their final outcome is uncertain, since the Marina candidacy was an expression both of right wing anti-PT sentiment, together with juvenile and popular rejection of PSDB elitism.
Aécio recovered in the final days of the campaign, after resisting pressure to abandon the race and support Marina, and on Sunday he overtook her. But the second round has begun rather badly for him because he lost in his native state, Minas Gerais, second in the number of voters, after having governed there for twelve years. Dilma returns to the struggle with a serious problem in São Paulo, the state with the biggest electorate, where the PT managed one of the worst campaigns in twenty years. (There, Aécio got 10 million votes against six million for Dilma). This will be the most hotly contested second round since 1989, the first election after the dictatorship, when the neoliberal Collor defeated trade union leader Lula by a narrow margin.
Before last Sunday, Lula made it known that it would be easier to face Aécio than Marina in the second round, because she would appear very similar to the PT (a sort of "Lula in skirts") who at the same time expresses an anti-PT stance. With Aécio it would be a confrontation of antagonistic projects: the neoliberalism of the 90s that wants to return vs. the post neoliberalism of the 2000s, which needs to show its political viability at a time when its economic results are being questioned (despite its good social outcomes).
These will be three weeks of fierce ideological and electoral struggle.
(Translated from the Spanish by Jordan Bishop)
– Gustavo Codas is a journalist, economist and Master in international relations, living in Brazil.