Brazil presidential hopefuls face tough challenges until October 5
From the dullest presidential election in Brazil’s recent democratic history to a thriller of unpredictable consequences. Marina Silva, Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves are set for the month that really matters in the campaign trail. All three have gigantic hurdles on their way to the Palácio do Planalto, though. I have insisted it is too early to call, despite the fact Neves is lagging behind in the polls and Silva is so far the clear favorite in a run-off. The reasons are many. One that affects everyone is the lack of real enthusiasm for any of them — the battle for votes is fierce, but this is one of the quietest elections ever.
Center of right Aécio Neves is the candidate facing the most difficult barriers. The main one is time: he is about 20 points behind Silva and Rousseff. Some of his voters and allies have left him for the former Environment Minister, since Silva is widely seen as a better challenger to the president. In his home state Minas Gerais, which he governed for two terms, Neves is polling third — a major embarrassment. His candidate in the Minas race is about 10 points behind the leader, a former Belo Horizonte mayor who is best friends with Rousseff since they were teenagers.
Desperate times demand desperate measures…
His campaign is much shorter on money: Rousseff raised R$ 123 million (about US$ 55 million), a bit more than Neves and Silva combined. He is now being scolded by his rivals in debates, which affects his intent of looking presidential. Neves also faces the lack of enthusiasm for his campaign in the key state of São Paulo — bear in mind governor Geraldo Alckmin is a likely presidential hopeful for 2018. In the Northeast, he is reduced to shambles: 2% of the vote in Pernambuco state is the most shocking number for the senator. His attacks on Marina and Rousseff could give him some votes, but also a lot more rejection.
President Rousseff has more time than Neves to fight back, since she is very likely to be in the run-off on October 26. But the challenges are enormous and her chances of not being reelected are much higher than a month ago. Her main adversary is the huge rejection her Worker’s Party has in the key states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — she is far behind Silva in both. The other big challenge for her will be the economy; Brazil is in a technical recession, growth was little throughout her administration and her denial of bigger inflation has infuriated many voters. Financial markets are all betting against her.
There is also the Petrobras kick-back scandal, which could grow in the next weeks and affect key members of her base. Veja, a magazine that is widely seen as an adversary of the Worker’s Party, named a minister, the Speaker of the House, the head of the Senate and more than 20 Congressmen as corrupted officials. They all denied the accusations. The magazine has also named Eduardo Campos, former governor of Pernambuco who died last month — Marina Silva is his replacement in the race. The anti-PT feeling, plus the glitches in the economy and the corruption scandal will be a major drag for Rousseff.
For Silva, dog days have begun too. She is the daily target of attacks by Rousseff and Neves, but unlike these two she has little time on TV to answer — that will change in the likely run-off. Members of the campaign who were closer to Campos are still leaving her camp — some see her as intransigent, others call her a flip-flop for her changing opinions on gay rights and amnesty for crimes committed in the dictatorship. Enthusiasm for her was begun to wane among the most liberal Brazilians. Every move she makes is now being scrutinized and she will have media pressure like never before. Negative headlines are at full speed.
The now favorite to win won’t have the help of many governorship candidates, which could prove decisive in the last few weeks of the campaign. Social movements are speaking out against her — they also did against Rousseff and Neves, but Silva was usually spared. Although financial markets see her as a better choice than reelecting the president, many players will be wondering whether she will have enough support to make reforms or not. Although she leads in all polls, Datafolha showed that most Brazilians still think Rousseff will win — which shows Silva’s need to look more presidential.
Not an easy ride for any of them. Be sure that anyone who predicts the outcome at this point is completely clueless or entirely biased.