Barring a last-minute upset, Dilma should scrape home in Sunday’s election
Whoever wins the second round on Sunday 26 October, Brazil`s next president will have grown up in the same middle-class neighbourhood in Belo Horizonte. But there the similarities stop. Aécio Neves is the son, nephew and grandson of politicians, the most famous being president-elect Tancredo Neves, who died before he could be inaugurated in 1985.
Dilma Rousseff is the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and a Brazilian teacher. She was arrested, tortured and spent three years in prison during the dictatorship for belonging to an armed guerrilla group.
Aécio Neves has been governor and senator for Minas Gerais, but also has a reputation as a playboy perfectly at home in the drug-fuelled world of the nightclubs of Rio de Janeiro. Surrounded by politicians from an early age, he is a smooth talker, full of charm and persuasion.
Dilma on the other hand, had never fought an election before being chosen by Lula as his candidate to carry on the PT (Workers’ Party) government in 2010. She has a reputation as a centralising, authoritarian person who rarely consults or listens to others.
Three days before the election, polls show Dilma 4 points ahead of Aécio, 52 to 48%. Only a major upset can prevent her victory. The party supporting Aécio, the PSDB (the Brazilian Social Democratic Party), is trying hard. To counter the daily bad news about the water shortage in São Paulo state, run by the PSDB for the last 20 years, the TCU (the Federal Accounts Tribunal), which is dominated by councillors appointed during the government of the last PSDB president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has tried to shift responsibility for the worsening water crisis away from the São Paulo state water company, SABESP, to ANA, the federal water agency, by suddenly announcing, three days before the election, an investigation into ANA’s responsibility.
This flies in the face of all the evidence that SABESP allowed the calamitous situation to develop because it refused to take preventive measures earlier, in case they affected the chances of re-election of PSDB governor, Geraldo Alkmim. So keen is the PSDB to wriggle out of its responsibility that the governor has even complained to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon about the criticism that the UN special rapporteur on hydric resources made of his government’s bad handling of the crisis.
After Marina Silva, with her proposed “third way”, was eliminated from the presidential race in the first round of the election, held earlier this month, the second round sees politics returning to the polarization between the PT and the PSDB. The candidates fling accusations of corruption at each other during the daily half hour of publicly-funded TV and radio propaganda and face up to each other in debates at the studios of the different TV networks. The last of the TV debates will be on held on Friday night on TV Globo, Brazil’s hugely dominant TV network – no surprise there.
The debates have turned into monologues, with each candidate extolling their own programmes and criticising the other’s record. The difference is that, while Dilma is able to talk about the concrete achievements of 12 years of PT government, Aécio is talking about promises – promises that bear little relation to his basic programme of austerity, that involves cutting inflation at all costs and shrinking the public sector.
Those who still see few differences between the PT’s and the PSDB’s economic policies are recommending that voters spoil their votes, but leaders of social movements and left-wing intellectuals have fallen in behind Dilma so that they can help maintain what has been achieved and avoid the return to the past that would occur if the toucans, as the PSDB is called, win power.
Guilherme Boulos, coordinator of the MTST (The Homeless Workers’ Movement), is a case in point: he says he will vote for Dilma, not because he reckons the PT has been a left-wing government, but because Aécio and the PSDB are right-wing options.
At the same time, he and others are critical of the PT’s failure, during its 12 years in power, to carry out structural reforms, such as changing the regressive tax system and the unfair political system or making the mainstream media – controlled by six families – more democratic. It is widely recognised that, even if Dilma is elected, these reforms will be much more difficult now with the new, ultra-conservative congress that has just been elected.
People like Rosângela Piovizani, of the Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas (Movement of Peasant Women) are realistic about the problems ahead. “Even if Dilma is elected, the next period will be very difficult because, of the three powers in the nation, two are clearly conservative”, she says. She is referring to the Congress and the Judiciary, which, she says, has “ historically criminalized the people’s struggles”.
With everything to play for in the closing moments, the election battle has returned to the streets, with mass rallies where people wave red or blue flags and shout out well-known political slogans. An ever hoarser Lula has been travelling the country, inspiring the crowds as Dilma cannot. And a waspish Fernando Henrique, the eminence grise behind Aécio, has been doling out the wisdom of the elite in his apartment in Higienópolis, a wealthy neighbourhood in São Paulo, (though he has put his foot in it once again, accusing Dilma voters of being “ignorant”).