New Politics and the Brazilian Presidential Election


"Brazilian National Congress" by Eurico Zimbres - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons The next president of the largest South American economy, Brazil, will be a woman. The two major contenders in the election are Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) and Marina Silva of the Socialist Party (PSB). It is very likely that neither candidate will gain the 50% majority needed in the first round of voting on October 5th, and thus will have to face each other in a second round of voting on the 26th of that month. Although most polls had Marina Silva winning by a slim majority in the second round, the latest poll shows the two tied at 41% a piece, with the remaining voters as yet undecided.

Rousseff is the current incumbent, and to many Brazilian voters, represents the status quo: a once popular left-wing government that has recently been associated with corrupt, inefficient, and self-serving politicians, and that is considered by many to be unworthy of succeeding Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), who enjoyed approval ratings of over 90% throughout his presidency. However, the legacy of Lula lives on, and thus the Workers’ Party still garners the support of many urban voters (the primary targets of Lula’s welfare policies).

Until August 13th, Rousseff was widely expected to win reelection, despite rising discontent amongst the working classes. The situation changed completely, however, when Eduardo Campos’s plane tragically crashed in the Brazilian city of Santos. Campos was the Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, and had named Marina Silva as his running mate. With Campos’s death, Silva rose to prominence, and eventually she named herself a presidential candidate. Overnight, PSB’s ratings in opinion polls shot up, and within two weeks, most polls had Silva beating Rouseff in the second round of voting.

Silva, who if elected would become Brazil’s first black president (she has ancestors of both black African and Portuguese origin), represents a new alternative in Brazilian politics that hitherto did not exist. Born and raised in a small village in the Amazon rainforest, she did not learn to read or write until the age of sixteen, when a bout of hepatitis caused her to seek medical help in the city. Although she was initially interested in becoming a nun, she graduated with a degree in history and soon became involved in activist politics, helping to create her state’s first workers’ union and allying with the popular environmentalist Chico Mendes, who was later assassinated for his opposition to deforestation companies.

Through her activism, Silva gained popularity as a voice for the underprivileged natives of the Amazon, and, in 2003, she was named Environment Minister by Lula. In her five years as minister, deforestation in the Amazon fell by 59% and the government adopted more sustainable development practices. However, she resigned in 2008 over differences with other cabinet ministers who opposed her reforms.

Now, in 2014, Silva represents what has been termed ‘new politics’. If elected, she will be the world’s first Green president. Her humble background and incredible conviction have attracted voters from across the spectrum, particularly those who perceive a growing elitism in Brasilia. She isn’t, however, the archetypical liberal Green warrior. Rather, she is—much to the chagrin of Brazil’s upper classes and youth—socially conservative. She opposes abortion (although she has stated that she would allow states to determine the policy for themselves) and, following her nomination for the Socialist party, she reversed the party’s position on the legalization of gay marriage.

Outside of social issues, Silva promises to expand the Bolsa Familia, a social-security net for the lowest income-earning families in Brazil, from the current 14m to 24m. She has also promised to nearly double expenditures on education, to provide free transport for students, and to subsidize more homes for Brazil’s urban poor. In the economic realm, Silva wants to open up trade with the US, give more autonomy to the Central Bank and extend fiscal oversight. Her policies represent a genuine challenge to the establishment, and growing support in opinion polls display just how much Silva’s words resonate with the people of Brazil.

The outcome of the election will likely determine the future of Brazil’s environmental and economic policies for a much longer period than just the next presidential term. At the same time, a potential Green president for South America’s largest economy will provide great incentive and initiative for the global Green movement, and will likely challenge establishment governments across the world.