In the first round of the Brazilian presidential elections on October 5, the results were “logical”. President Dilma Rousseff, standing for re-election as the candidate of the Workers' Party (PT), will face ex-governor of Minas Gerais, Aecio Neves from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) in the second round on October 26.
The results were 42% of the electorate (more than 43 million votes) for the PT's candidate against 34% (almost 35 million) for the PSDB. These have been the two main contending parties since 1994 ― with victories for the PSDB that year and in 1998, and the PT in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Put this way, it sounds simple. But the result was not foreseeable during the 45 days of intense campaigning that ended on October 5.
During this campaign, environmentalist Marina Silva, a former PT government minister and a PT militant from 1980 to 2008 was the candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). She first had the lead in voter support (for the second round) then kept second place. Until the last week, everything indicated that she would face Dilma in the run-off.
Marina presented herself as the representative of a “new politics”, rejecting the “old polarisation” of PT versus PSDB. According to her, this polarisation had paralysed the country for 20 years.
She tried to present herself as a “third way” and as an expression of the huge protests that shook the country in June last year. But to establish herself as electorally viable, she pragmatically joined with conservative forces that wanted her to win because they thought that the PSDB would not be able to defeat the PT.
But Marina's image shattered under a mass of contradictions, under the bombardment of the PT and PSDB ― each collecting old debts from their own side.
Marina won 21%, or 22 million votes (about the same as she had in 2010). Numerically, these will be decisive votes for October 26. But their final outcome is uncertain, since the Marina candidacy was an expression both of right wing anti-PT sentiment and popular rejection of PSDB elitism.
Aecio recovered in the final days of the campaign, after resisting pressure to abandon the race and support Marina. But the second round has begun rather badly for him because he lost in his native state, Minas Gerais, after having governed there for 12 years.
Dilma returns to the campaign with a serious problem in Sao Paulo, the state with the biggest electorate, where the PT endured one of its worst campaigns in 20 years. Aecio got 10 million votes against six million for Dilma in the state.
This will be the most hotly contested second round since 1989, the first election after the dictatorship, when the neoliberal Fernando Collor de Mello, from the Brazilian Labour Party, defeated trade union leader and PT candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by a narrow margin.
Before October 5, Lula said it would be easier to face Aecio than Marina in the second round, because Marina would appear very similar to the PT while who at the same time expressing an anti-PT stance.
With Aecio it will be a confrontation of antagonistic projects: the neoliberalism of the '90s that wants to return vs. the post-neoliberalism of the 2000s, which needs to show its political viability at a time when its economic results are being questioned, despite improved social outcomes.
[Reprinted from ALAInet. Translated by Jordan Bishop. Gustavo Codas is a journalist, economist and Master in international relations, living in Brazil.]