This was an election full of surprises: every opinion poll had predicted that President Dilma Rousseff’s challenger in the second round would be Marina Silva. Instead, she lagged in third place, with 21% of the votes, while Aécio Neves from the Brazilian Social Democracy party (PSDB) came only 8 percentage points behind the president, with 34% to her 42%.
Another surprise was the unprecedented number of blank, spoiled and absentee votes — 38 million, out of the 140 million apt to vote. Many of them were probably the voters who had pinned their hopes on Marina and her promises of change. Disillusioned by her recent statements, they decided to vote for no one. It is obligatory to vote in Brazil.
Marina, who at first seemed to promise an attractive alternative to the two traditional parties, had crumbled under the attacks of her adversaries, revealing contradictions and uncertainty. If elected, she seemed more likely to be a risky adventure, because the party she stood for, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), is a small party, and to govern she would need the support of a bigger party. In return it would demand power, preference and posts – in other words, politics as usual.
Left-wing commentators decided Marina was a Trojan horse, enthusiastically supported by the neoliberal sectors who want to dismantle the economic programme of the Workers’ Party (PT), which has been in power for 12 years, and to privatise the remaining state companies, to deregulate the labour market and to reduce workers’ rights, in the name of greater competitiveness.
Even so, with 22 million votes under her belt, Marina still has a role to play in the second round. To some extent, she has become the kingmaker, wooed by both parties.
The second round will take place on 26 October 26. The campaign is expected to be hard-hitting, even vicious. The tucanos (toucans), as the PSDB are called, because of their top-heavy party structure, i.e. lots of chiefs and few militants, were been practically written off only a week ago, but now they have scented blood, a chance to recover power after 12 years in the wilderness. They will pull out all the stops. Sixteen years in power would be too long, they say, and in a democracy power must alternate, conveniently overlooking the fact that in São Paulo, where tucano governor Geraldo Alkmim was re-elected, the PSDB is heading for 24 years of uninterrupted power.
The problem for the PT is that, while nobody questions the success of social programmes like Bolsa Família, the redistribution of income and the lifting of millions out of poverty, the motto of these elections was ‘change`, the legacy of the protests of June 2013. Marina’s initial success was not because she was Green, or black, or a woman, but because she talked about change and `new politics`. People want better public services, less corruption, a better quality of life.
Aécio Neves is promising all this, without spelling out the true cost of a return to neoliberal policies which his programme entails. The markets have already signalled that he is their candidate – the index for Bovespa, the São Paulo stock market, shot up the day after the election. If elected, his finance minister is expected to be Armínio Fraga, president of the Central Bank during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The PT’s long and successful endeavour to rebuild the state and to strengthen Brazil as a regional power, in defiance of the USA, would be reversed.
The PSDB will also attack the PT over corruption, which has become their weak point. There are now several Petrobrás scandals, involving bribes to construction companies and politicians of many parties, and over-priced refineries. Meanwhile, thanks to an anti-PT, pro-tucano mainstream press, the scandals involving the PSDB government in São Paulo and the metro, and the so-called “mensalao mineiro” (which involved money laundering to finance the election campaign of a leading PSDB politician), will remain largely hidden.
There were other surprises. In the state of Maranhão, 40 years of feudal control and corruption by a single family came to an end with the election of the first ever communist governor – Flávio Dino of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), who is also a federal judge. The family of Senator José Sarney has run Brazil’s poorest, most backward state with an iron grip, but finally the population refused to heed the lies and false propaganda of the family-controlled media, the illegal distribution of free petrol and other bribes and threats. Sarney’s candidate, Edison Lobão Filho, is the son of Dilma’s minister of Mines and Energy – a good example of the twisted political alliances necessary in coalition governments.
In Congress, whoever wins the presidency will need even more political skills to deal with the 28 parties who now have seats – six more than last time. The PT has lost 18 seats, down to 70 from 88, and PMDB, its major coalition partner, has lost five, down from 71 to 66. The PSDB will be the third largest party, with 55 seats. The left-wing party, the PSOL, whose presidential candidate, Luciana Genro, gave a verbal whipping to the crassly homophobic candidate Levy Fidelix during one of the TV debates, telling him he ought to be led out in handcuffs, has only a handful of deputies but, thanks to Luciana’s bold and articulate performance, came fourth in the race
for the presidency. While the main three candidates – Dilma, Aécio and Marina – threw generalities at each other during the debates, Luciana and Eduardo Jorge, the Green Party’s actual candidate (who was ignored by the foreign press, who had decided that Marina was the Green candidate) insisted on talking about uncomfortable issues – abortion, gay marriage, drugs, the need for a new prison policy.
Finally, another surprise: former soccer player Romário was elected senator for Rio with 63% of the vote. He said proudly “I am the first ‘senador favelado’ ” – the first senator from a favela.