By Chiyu Tsai
The time has come again: on October 5, Brazil’s almost 200 million people are going to the polls to choose their leader for the next four years. This year, we might witness one of the most competitive races for presidency since Brazil’s re-democratization in 1985. Three candidates have emerged after weeks of campaigning. The premature death of the charismatic candidate for presidency, former Governor of Permanbuco Eduardo Campos, also threw in a dramatic interlude to this election.
After the death of Mr. Campos, polls showed a possible painful defeat for President Dilma Rousseff in favor of the successor of Campos and former Minister of Environment Marina Silva in the second round, instead of a seemingly sure re-election in the first round. But all is not sure in this election, the last polls even show that Aécio Neves, former Governor of the second most populous state in Brazil, Minas Gerais, is gaining momentum while scoring a significant 20% of potential votes and becoming increasingly popular in Brazil’s most populous state, São Paulo.
What is at stake if Brazil decides to choose President Rousseff, Minister Silva or Governor Neves for the nation’s most important position? Why do all three pose threats to the country’s future in terms of economic, political and social stability, despite being decent candidates ?
The current President Dilma Rousseff has been the favorite for a second term so far and is the progeny of the popular former President Lula. Her party, the Workers’ Party (PT), has been in charge since 2002. Prior to Rousseff’s presidency, former President Lula left office with record high rates of approval after eight years of popular social programs alongside economic stability.
To combat the financial crisis in 2008, President Lula increased fiscal spending and government intervention in the economy. This type of supposedly temporary stimulus continued to be the guidance of economic policy under President Rousseff, leaving an aftermath of little fiscal discipline and excessive governmental interference in the economy. In addition, her lack of respect for the autonomy of the Brazilian central bank has made investors wary of the country’s prospects. Her last two years in office left Brazil with high inflation and worryingly low growth rates. Yet there are no signs that she is willing to change her economic policies in a possible second term.
Head-to-head with President Rousseff in the race is former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who is not related to President Lula despite having the same last name. Ms. Silva was Eduardo Campos’ running mate for PSB (Brazilian’s Socialist Party), and his tragic death lifted her to run for presidency in his place. Since then, she has been the favored candidate to fight President Rousseff in the second round. When the first polls came in showing a real possibility of her winning the election, markets rallied as she inherited Campos’ pragmatic economic team. Her social background also indicates that she would bring more economic stability and would not reverse the social progress made by the country in recent years.
However, her well-known strong religious beliefs and past concessions to Evangelical groups are alarming. When her team attempted to propose a more progressive agenda, the campaign suffered public criticism from a well-known local evangelical pastor, Silas Malafaia. This made Ms. Silva retreat almost immediately from those propositions. In a country where the majority of the population still cannot separate religion and politics, a president subservient to radical religious groups in Congress could undermine the political institutions in a democratic country.
Finally, the third candidate in the nation’s most important seat is former Governor and current Senator Aécio Neves, who is leading the center-right party PSDB (Brazilian’s Social Democracy Party) in its third attempt to return to power after former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso left office in 2002. With his entire political career in the state of Minas Gerais, the grandson of Brazil’s first elected president after its re-democratization, Tancredo Neves, was little known outside his state and political stronghold until now.
Gathering the economists and statesmen responsible for the country’s economic stabilization 20 years ago, Neves aims to bring back Brazil’s international credibility and restore its economic strength, something lost due to the Worker’s Party’s leadership, in his opinion. Although investors perceive Neves as a reliable candidate, the general perception of the underprivileged population is that he is part of an elitist party and that he is willing to sacrifice the much-needed and hitherto limited welfare that they receive, in favor of those in the higher social echelons, despite his denial of such accusations.
None of these candidates is ideal for Brazil. After weeks of campaigning, the Brazilian people must choose their favorite. The decision will have implications for the country in the decades to come. All three candidates have very similar propositions for the nation, with vague plans and an incomprehensible discourse that mix social conservatism, religious appeal and populism. The people in this tropical country must know that potential outcomes could be different and risky, despite candidates having the same discourse. Do we want economic prosperity, political stability or social responsibility? Apparently, Brazil cannot have it all.Featured Image Credit: Fotografik33, Flickr CC. License available here.