Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s leftist president, narrowly re-elected following bitter campaign

LUCAS COIA

In one of the closest elections in a generation, Rousseff’s Worker’s Party wins the presidency with just 51.6% of the popular vote, says she will continue to fight inequality and poverty in Brazil

Photo credit: Forbes

Photo credit: Forbes

On Oct. 26, Brazil’s socialist President Dilma Rousseff was narrowly re-elected after defeating her pro-business challenger Aécio Neves.

Aécio Neves, an economist by training and president of the right-leaning Social Democratic Party (PSDB), captured 48.4 per cent of the popular vote while Rousseff ’s Worker’s Party took 51.6 per cent.

It has been one of Brazil’s closest, most bitterly fought elections since the country became a democracy more than 30 years ago.

“My dears, my friends, we have arrived at the end of a campaign that intensely mobilized all the forces of this country. I thank every Brazilian, without exception,” Rousseff said in her victory speech on Sunday.  “Instead of increasing differences and creating gaps, I strongly hope that we create the conditions to unite,” she told her supporters.

“I want to be a much better president than I have been until now,” she said.

Rousseff was first elected president in 2010 after her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stepped down after serving two terms in office.  The Worker’s Party has ruled Brazil for over a decade and in that time has put forward massive and costly social welfare programs for the poor, especially for people in the northern regions of Brazil where poverty is rife.

The party’s programs have helped millions of poor Brazilians to escape impoverishment but Rousseff ’s commitment to aiding the poor and combating inequality as the highest priority of her presidency may be unsettled as she is now faced with a tanking Brazilian economy.  “Dilma has social inclusion on her side, but the macroeconomic policies during her first four years in office have been very weak,” said Carlos Pereira, a political analyst at one of Brazil’s most respected think tanks.  “Inflation has returned, the country is in a technical recession and public spending is out of control. It is less likely she will be able to offer social inclusion and macroeconomic stability at the same time.”

The debate during the campaign over returning growth and prosperity to Brazil’s economy and tackling inequality in the country split voters nearly 50/50 between Rousseff and Neves. It was tribal war between the two sides.  Supporters of the president were convinced that only socialist Rousseff could do the job of improving the lives of the poor while Neves’ camp believed that only a market-orientated president could revive Brazil and rescue it from its woes.

“It is my hope, or even better, my certainty that the clash of ideas can create room for consensus, and my first words are going to be a call for peace and unity,” Rousseff said, acknowledging the ugliness of the campaign as one that bitterly divided Brazilians.

Rousseff and Neves exchanged bitter accusations of corruption and incompetence.  Neves accused Rousseff ’s party of having received money from Petrobras, Brazil’s largest corporation, in order to buy favouritism from politicians.

“There’s one measure above all others to end corruption: vote the PT out of office,” he said in the final televised debate of the election.

Neves even accused the party of acting like Nazis while Lula da Silva said the Social Democrats were treating the poor in the northeast as the Nazis treated the Jews in the 1930s.

It was an ugly campaign and Neves’ support was hit hard by the accusations the Worker’s Party levelled against him.

They accused Neves of using his position when he was governor of Minas Gerais to benefit members of his family and also accused Neves of beating his wife just before their wedding, causing his support among women to plummet.

Rousseff rejected the accusations Neves threw at her but her party’s main message, that a return of the Social Democrats to power would bring economic ruin to Brazil, seems to have paid off. “We’ve worked so hard to better the lives of the people, and we won’t let anything in this world, not even in this crisis or all the pessimism, take away what they’ve conquered,” Rousseff said.

Rousseff was quick to promise voters after the election that in her second term as president she would lead a “rigorous fight against corruption” and improving “fiscal responsibility” in her government.  It is unlikely that Rousseff will embark on a project of austerity, she’s remained a committed socialist all her life, but in elections like these, a politician with a vision is always on a very short leash.

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