Dilma pulled it off, achieving victory in the elections, despite a series of ‘dirty tricks’. The virulence of the campaign hid it but analysts now agree that it was a crucial election for deciding the future of the country.
Thousands of PT (Workers’ Party) supporters crowded onto Avenida Paulista, one of the main streets in São Paulo, on Sunday night to celebrate, when it became clear that PT candidate Dilma Rousseff had been re-elected for another four-year term. The delight was mixed with relief, because for a few hours in the morning it had seemed that Aécio Neves, the opposition PSDB (Brazilian Social democratic Party) candidate, could win, thanks to a last minute wave of rumours and a `dirty trick` played by highly influential and virulently anti-PT magazine, Veja.
The margin was narrow – Dilma received just three and a half million votes more than Aécio, out of a total of 107 million, with a record 30 million abstentions.
The campaign had been verbally violent, but the actual polling day passed off peacefully with very few incidents. In different towns, one voter set fire to the electronic voting machine and another put glue on the No. 3 key – maybe hoping to prevent votes for number 13, the PT number.
PT supporters were worried by the repercussions of the cover story in Veja magazine, which had been rushed into print two days before normal publication, for maximum impact on voters. A big headline proclaimed “Eles sabiam de tudo” (They knew everything) – alongside pictures of Lula and Dilma. The story is based on an alleged confession from his prison cell by Alberto Yousseff, known as the ‘doleiro’ or dollar man, who is collaborating with the prosecution in return for a lighter sentence. According to the magazine, he accused the PT’s former president (Lula) and the presidential candidate (Dilma), of knowing about an alleged illegal transfer of money from the state oil company Petrobrás to the party to finance the election campaign. There was no proof beside the word of a condemned criminal; and even Yousseff‘s own lawyer said he knew nothing about it.
But the anti-PT press (which means almost all the press) eagerly seized on the story, and the magazine was widely distributed. A battle of injunctions then began, as the PT tried to contain the damage by banning publicity for the magazine and by demanding a right to reply on the Veja site, which was granted by the Supreme Court.
Then on Sunday morning, just before the polls opened, a story circulated far and wide on social media that Yousseff had been poisoned, taken to hospital, and died. This story was denied by the Federal Police, who said that he had, indeed, been hospitalised, but because of high blood pressure.
These two stories almost certainly took votes from Dilma in São Paulo and the South, and maybe contributed to the huge number of abstentions. But they had little or no effect in the North and Northeast where people voted solidly for Dilma, many fearful that a PSDB government would scale back the poverty reduction programme, Bolsa Família, which has put millions of families on the first rungs of the social mobility ladder.
While some see the PT winning in spite of the candidate herself, others attribute Dilma’s victory, at least in part, to her own qualities. During the TV debates with Aécio Neves she rebuffed his accusations with firmness, counter-attacking with accusations of nepotism and corruption – reeling off a list of the un-investigated and un-punished corruption scandals involving tucanos (PSDB politicians), ending with the catch phrase — “Todos soltos” (Everyone free), in contrast with the “Mensalão” (a corruption scandal involving PT politicians), which led to prosecutions and many PT leaders sent to prison.
In her victory speech, Dilma took off the red jacket she had worn on the campaign trail and wore white – symbolic of her plea for dialogue and unity. She refused to accept that Brazil is polarized between rich and poor – the Brazil of the poorer North and Northeast who vote for the PT, and the Brazil of the wealthier South, Southeast and Midwest who vote for the tucanos.
But, for many, there is no denying the divisions in modern day Brazil. For sociologist Jesse de Souza, lecturer at the Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, the division is not geographical, but social. Writing in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, he said: “Almost 70% of the country’s GDP is generated by capital gains and is concentrated in the hands of the 1% richest of the population.”
He argued that voters were faced with a historic choice between two different models of society and their decision would determine Brazil’s future. One, the dominant one, born out of the 1964 coup, was for a consumer society for 20% of the population. This option was consolidated in the 1990s during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The second option, based on a desire for a more inclusive society, was defeated in 1964. This is the model which the PT government had begun to develop during its 12 years in power, when it increased the number of those included into the world of consumers from 20% to 40%.
For Souza, the well-off class is afraid of losing its privileges due to the shrinking of the social space between it and the popular classes. “It is the ancestral anger of a slave-owning society, accustomed to an army of humble and humiliated servants.”
While Dilma acknowledged the demand for change, which both Marina Silva and then Aécio Neves had taken as their campaign banners, it is obviously more difficult for an incumbent government to promise change. Never the less, she spoke of a new government, of consulting more and of carrying out reforms, with the promise that the first one will be political reform.
The PT has won another four years in power and Dilma is today a more experienced president. But Congress will be uncooperative, the press remains largely hostile, and the economy shows signs of faltering. And she has yet to show any understanding of Brazil’s extreme vulnerability to climate change, even with the country on the brink of the most serious drought ever in the most populated and most productive region of the country.
Deus é brasileiro – God may be Brazilian but has He taken his eye off the ball?