The clue is in the title. Next Sunday President Dilma Rousseff is surely going to be judged by how she handled the economy — jobs and income are still what matters the most to average Brazilians. But those moments will also be there with many voters that picks her and those that choose opposition’s Aécio Neves. I picked one for each year.
1 – Firing her chief of staff Antonio Palocci (2011) – Rousseff always knew her most important minister was involved in dodgy deals. After all, he had a record. But she didn’t expect to let him go only six months after she took office. Palocci was accused of making millions as a consultant to big firms shortly before he became her national campaign manager in 2010. When the press found out, the campaign against him was irresistible. As soon as Palocci left, Rousseff lost a key channel with big money. To replace him, she chose little known senator Gleisi Hoffman, a technocrat crazy for budgets that she met during the 2002 Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva campaign. After losing a close ally, she started a wave of “sweeping corruption away” in Brasilia: Rousseff fired six ministers due to similar suspicions until the end of that year. By December everyone knew that she wasn’t a puppet: she was the boss.
2 – Installing the Commission of Truth (2012) - Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula avoided taking that decision during all eight years they spent in the Presidency. A former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured and unlawfully jailed for years wouldn’t just look away. Although the commission doesn’t hold nearly as much power as she’d like, it has sparked huge controversy and resistance from the military — they still refuse to cooperate in elucidating crimes of the 1964-1985 regime. Leftists who were upset with Lula’s pragmatism started looking at Rousseff with a little more sympathy. Her popularity skyrocketed to 80%. She seemed to be the ideal person to bridge the poor that improved in recent years with the aspiring middle class that was fed up with corruption in the federal government. The final report of the commission will be published by the end of the year. If Rousseff is reelected, it is reasonable to believe she will add something extra to the already difficult relationship with the Armed Forces.
3 – National address during the protests (2013) - Like it or not, the wave of protests began when Rousseff told the mayor of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to postpone their transport fare hikes to the middle of the year. If that had happened in January, most students would be on vacation. In June, they were all waiting for the bad news to come. Although the turmoil didn’t begin aiming at her, part of the protesters surely wanted her to deliver more change than she actually did. Her super popularity vanished — by September of that year she only had the third of the electorate that always go with the Worker’s Party. It could have been worse: her national announcement embracing the movement could have gone completely different, since some advisers actually told her to put the Armed Forces against the most violent in the crowds. She just said no. But her popularity rose back to the levels of May 2013.
4 – Being booed in the World Cup opener (2014) - Jeers are not unusual to Brazilian politicians. But to get that at the World Cup opener with the addition of insults showed that the polarization in this presidential election would be tough to endure. Some insisted only wealthy Brazilians were booing the president, but they forgot to watch fan fests, where poor and middle class people did the same. It didn’t matter that much that suspicions on Brazil were proven wrong, all that really counted is that she would be judged by other elements, including her management of state-oil Petrobras — a company that Brazilian pensioners like to invest on. The World Cup could have been a boost in her popularity, but the boos in the opener made it all much more difficult. The candidate that could have bridged PT with the middle class was being thrown out by the traditional middle class.
Those moments explain a bit of the animosity in this presidential election.