Brazilian elections for dummies: what is at stake in the first vote
The clue is in the title. I will be focusing on the main characters in Brazil’s thrilling political theater. The first round of vote will be held next Sunday. If necessary, there will be a run-off on October 26.
President Dilma Rousseff: despite a mediocre first term, with a sluggish economy and little reform, she is poised to win reelection. If she wins in the first round, it will be a shock, since the June protests last year made her rejection soar to about 35% and fostered some will for change — 74% of Brazilians still want that, according to the latest Datafolha poll. Victory on October 5 means she would get a mandate to make less agreements with centrist political parties — which would be a relief for many in Brasilia. Winning next Sunday would also mean her Worker’s Party (PT) is even more resilient than some thought. Taking it to a run-off means more risks, but much less than the expected a month ago. At this moment, the election is hers to lose.
Marina Silva: a series of mistakes, plus less structured campaigns in the states and little free TV airtime transformed the former Environment minister that led the polls after a tragic jet crash into a falling star. She is now at risk of not even making it to the run-0ff. If she does get a place in the final challenge, she will get an enormous boost of resources and free airtime. Her victory would transform Brazil’s political system in a puzzle: who could she pick in other parties so she can govern? All the opposition is likely to rally behind her since most anti-government voters want PT out more than anything else. If she doesn’t make it or loses it in the run-off, the blame game will spread into 2015, a year in which she wouldn’t be very visible. With the prospects of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva running in 2018, she could consider running for a different job — say, São Paulo’s state government.
Aécio Neves: his political survival depends on him making it to the run-off. Despite being reasonably young, Neves can’t afford becoming the first candidate of Brazilian Social-Democracy Party (PSDB) not to make to the decider since 1989. If his name is not on the ballot on October 26, São Paulo’s governor Geraldo Alckmin becomes the clear front runner to lead the opposition in 2018. Neves’ candidate is likely to lose the governorship election in his homestate of Minas Gerais to a PT adversary, which gives him one less powerful weapon for the next presidential elections. He will still have a job in the Senate for the next four years, but that is far from the goals of someone who was groomed to be president. If he reaches the run-off and loses, he will keep strong position in PSDB and could challenge Alckmin for the presidential ticket in four years time. Neves winning the election would be the biggest turnaround ever in Brazilian politics — it would make Lula’s position much tougher to run in 2018, disorganize PT for a few years and transform the incumbent into a pensioner taking care of her grandson in Rio Grande do Sul.
Former President Lula: he is still the most important voter in this election and that won’t change no matter what. If Rousseff wins, he keeps 100% of his influence in government. If Silva wins, he will have in office a friend he is at odds with, but one that promises to stay for no longer than four years in the Palácio do Planalto. If Neves wins, he will have a channel with one of the few PSDB politicians he is friends with. If Rousseff wins, Lula’s candidacy for 2018 becomes self evident. If Silva wins, he will have a cue, but less support to run. If Neves wins, he will have more trouble to beat an incumbent running for reelection. Whatever happens, he will still be seen as Brazil’s main political leader — all three main presidential hopefuls are not nearly as national as him.
Governor Geraldo Alckmin: if he wins São Paulo’s governorship election in the first round, he will be intensely courted by Silva and Neves — which raises his power for 2018. If victory comes in the run-off, it won’t be much different. A scenario of him losing is not even palpable. The 2018 presidential election will have him as a key part — either supporting Neves or bidding himself for the role of leader of the opposition. He did that in 2006 and took a still popular Lula to an unexpected run-off. He can’t run for governor again in four years. Surviving in São Paulo for 20 years as governor or deputy governor is impressive to all Brazilians. Even more so because his last term was surrounded by corruption allegations in the metro company and by a water crisis of unpredictable consequences. He is much to the right of Neves and is Brazil’s most poweful conservative politician.
PMDB: Brazil’s corrupted centrist party always wins. They are likely to elect the biggest group of Congressmen and Senators, plus governors in important states, including Rio de Janeiro. If Rousseff wins, not much changes in Brazilian politics — unless the president decides to ditch her alliance partner. If Silva wins, deals will be reached with smaller bits of the party, which should be enough to pass modest reforms and foster endless bickering in Congress. If Neves wins, a broader deal, just as comprehensive and hazardous as the one kept with Rousseff, will definitely be made — PT would be in the opposition.