Rousseff reelected means the beginning of the 3rd round of Brazil elections
The campaign about change became the campaign about rejection: about 40% said no to continuity with change and about 40% said no to change with continuity — 20%, as usual, simply abstained. In the end, after bitter three weeks, President Dilma Rousseff was reelected with the support of 38% of the actual Brazilian electorate, in the tightest election the country has ever seen. She has the Presidency and 100% of the ministers and government officials, but the mandate is thin. Until January 1st 2015, when she inaugurates her second term, there will be a third round: pressure is coming from all sides and she will have to make concessions to govern. The question is who will get their way and who will be frustrated enough to become a great obstacle.
Rousseff’s mandate is thin for a number of reasons. The first one is the perception she has micromanaged Brazil’s economy. That is why opposition’s Aécio Neves focused his criticism on inflation — which deeply affects income — and the low growth in the last few years. The president has insisted jobs were at a very high level despite the sluggish economy. She also said that social programs cannot be targeted by budget cuts. But now comes the hard part: she will have to show how to do that and lose minimum political capital. From one side, she has social movements insisting she has to better those wealth distribution mechanisms. On the other she has fiscal conservatives saying inflation should be stopped. Stock brokers want that and higher gas prices to help Petrobras.
The name of the next finance minister is important to show where the president is going. Still a less interventionist Rousseff matters much more to the market than the person she picks for the job — and her role from now on is far from clear. Of course speculators in the stock market can always find a way to go bullish after a sell-off. But the folks in Brazil’s decaying industry are a different business. If jobs start shrinking because of the economic difficulties Brazil might face in times of adjustments, the president’s popularity can be affected and changes for the Worker’s Party to remain in the Palácio do Planalto in 2018 can start to wane. Never forget the two main drivers of Brazil’s political landscape are jobs and income — all the other aspects are extra.
That doesn’t mean the extras have left the scene, though. Corruption at Petrobras has just begun to be investigated. A very partisan magazine linked Rousseff and Lula to the scandal, which angered many voters in opposition stronghold state of São Paulo. In that state alone, Neves won by 7 million votes. The president eliminated that difference by winning in the poor Northeast by 11 million votes. That contrast between the North and the South has also sparked many racist incidents coming from the losing side, which has certainly affected Brazil’s social fabric in the last few days. Rousseff will have to support the investigations, even if they hurt those close to her, show she is truly independent and, at the same time, cool off the hatred seen since her victory.
Politically the situation is now much more complex for the president. Congress has gone conservative enough to stop major reforms that she would approve of. It is also much more pulverized between political parties (there is even a G10 in Congress to separate those that actually have a large group of MPs from those that elected just a few). Opposition supporters are signing petitions asking for her impeachment, based on a baseless cover of a partisan magazine. The heavy defeat in São Paulo state can be lethal to the chances of Lula in 2018 if his mayor Fernando Haddad doesn’t hold the powerful state capital for the Worker’s Party. All these things will be on Rousseff’s mind in 2015.
There is certainly loads of speculations that have earned media interest since Sunday, but I think there are more doubts than certainties in the next administration. It certainly looks like Rousseff has won the debate on the importance of social programs and the strengthening of the minimum wage. But if fiscal difficulties are not sorted soon those will also be at risk.