The incumbent president, Dilma Rousseff, of the left leaning Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT) won a close election on Sunday, defeating right winger Aecio Neves, of the so-called Social Democratic Party (PSDB) by a margin of about three million votes, or 51.56 percent to 48.52 percent in this huge country of 200 million people
Rousseff won most of Brazil’s 26 states including Minas Gerais, Neves’ home state where she was the governor from 2003 to 2010. Neves did well in a band of states in the West and South of the country, where the population is wealthier and predominantly of European ancestry, while Rousseff did well in the East and North, where there is a higher proportion of people of African and mixed African and European ancestry.
Immediately, the “Bolivarian” left in Latin America from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego breathed a massive sigh of relief, while the stock market donned mourning. Had Rousseff and her allies, which include the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil) lost, it would be a severe blow to efforts by the left to wean the Latin America and the Caribbean countries away from the economic, political and cultural hegemony of the United States.
Brazil is the second most populous country in the Western Hemisphere after the United States, and the fifth in the world. It is one of the most industrialized countries in the region and a major supplier of oil. Although it is not a member of the most radical group of hemispheric states, the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America), it is a key member of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South), as well as CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and other groupings. It plays a vital role in the developing Bank of the South.
This banking institution is supposed to develop to the point of replacing the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as sources of financing for development projects among participating countries, without the imposition of neo-liberal policies of austerity, privatization, deregulation and rigged “free” trade as a condition for help. Brazil is also a key member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of emerging economies which is seen as a counterpoise to the overweening power of the U.S.A. and the European Union, and which is also creating its own alternative development bank.
Neves announced that he would pull back from the Bolivarian economic integration plan and move toward the Pacific Alliance, a grouping of mostly right wing governed countries whose trade concepts are neo-liberal.
In the first round of the elections on Oct. 5, Rousseff did not get the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. After Rousseff and Neves emerged as the two candidates in the runoff, there was a scramble to get the support of other parties and candidates. Environmental activist Marina Silva, a woman of humble, mixed African and European origins, who had been the candidate of the Socialist Party after their original candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in an airplane accident, finally decided to endorse Neves, as did the leadership of the Socialist Party. However, a number of Socialist Party leaders, including outgoing party leader Roberto Amaral, were scandalized by this action, which they described as a betrayal.
It is likely that most left-wing voters ended up voting for Rousseff in appreciation of the massive improvements in the life of workingclass people which have occurred during her presidency and that of her Workers’ Party predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or “Lula.”
The falloff of the vote for Rousseff since her first election in 2011 can be attributed to several things: There is currently a sharp worldwide drop in the price of oil, a major Brazilian export, which has led to an economic slump. There were riots last year over the quantity of money that the government was spending on the FIFA soccer championships. While poverty has been drastically reduced, health, education and transportation services urgently need improvement.
There have also been corruption scandals, including late-breaking allegations that the national oil company, PETROBRAS, had channeled money to the PT. But at end, the government’s scandals were balanced by those of the opposition, while workingclass and poor Brazilians remembered what life was like when Neves’ PSDB was last in power, and realized how much their lives have been improved with the generous social welfare programs of the Lula-Dilma team, such as the Bolsa Familiar or Family Allowance, which is a direct cash transfer program that has sharply cut poverty and malnutrition in Brazil, affirmative action in college admissions and many other things.
It will not be easy for Dilma Rousseff to govern; the Congress will be split even more than it was before with several small new parties, some of which are likely to offer themselves up to either the government or the opposition (which controls a number of governorships) on a crassly materialistic basis.
Photo: Dilma Rousseff acknowledging her election in Brazil. Eraldo Peres/AP