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lunes, octubre 27, 2014

Close vote in Brazil reveals a deeply divided nation


Por: Roger Noriega

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff won a second four-year term yesterday, defeating challenger Aécio Neves by a margin of 51.6% to 48.4%. Rousseff waged one of the most negative campaigns in memory, conjuring fears that Neves would cut government anti-poverty programs rather than explaining how she plans to pull the world’s seventh largest economy out of recession.

The close result paints a picture of a deeply divided nation—politically, socially, and geographically. Rousseff last night pledged to initiate a dialogue and to be “a much better president than I have been until now.” Although Rousseff pledged during the campaign to replace her finance minister, her stout defense of the status quo gives little reason to expect that she will abandon her interventionist economic policies in a second term.

Sunday’s results were greeted with skittishness in the private sector, which had hoped that Neves’ free-market programs might jumpstart a flagging economy. For example, Brazil’s currency the real dipped to a nine-year low.

During the campaign, Neves criticized Rousseff’s statist policies for restricting Brazil’s economic potential. He advocated reforms that he said would make Brazil more competitive in the global market, recover growth, and generate jobs. Bowing to the unpopularity of her policies, a slumping economy, and inflation fears, Rousseff sought to identify herself with 12 years of Workers’ Party rule, which she argued had helped millions of Brazilians pull themselves out of poverty. Her mentor and popular predecessor, “Lula” da Silva was center-stage in the closing weeks of the campaign—accusing the opposition of threatening his party’s anti-poverty legacy.

In a furious three-week second-round campaign, Neves touted his management experience as the successful two-term governor of the important state of Minas Gerais. He counterpunched effectively against Rousseff’s accusation that he would cut social programs, claiming credit for his Social Democracy Party for programs put in place over 15 years ago that stabilized the economy, tamed inflation, and transferred wealth to the very poor.

Rousseff had to contend with allegations in the final weeks of the campaign that the state-owned oil company Petrobras was used to skim kickbacks to Workers’ Party cronies. She accused the newsmagazine Veja of “electoral terrorism” for a cover story reporting that the architect of the payoff scheme had told state prosecutors that Rousseff and “Lula” “knew everything” about the corruption. An electoral judge ordered Veja not to promote its cover, which featured the president and her predecessor in photos resembling mug shots, and vandals destroyed a newsstand where the magazine was displayed.

Yesterday, more than 106 million Brazilians cast ballots—near three-fourths of the country’s 143 eligible voters. Results show that Rousseff built up an insurmountable lead by winning the less-developed northeastern states, where the rural poor have benefited from government programs. Neves won an impressive 64% of the vote in the urban state of São Paulo, where nearly one-fourth of all the national votes were cast.

Just three months ago, most pundits predicted that Rousseff would win reelection handily. Instead, in the first-round campaign she was forced to beat back a challenge by surging maverick environmentalist Marina Silva. Rousseff and her Workers’ Party waged a barrage of negative ads that undermined confidence in Silva’s ability to govern. As a result, Silva slipped to third place in the first round voting on October 5th. As the ruling party machine targeted Silva, Neves managed to win second place and the right to face Rousseff in the runoff.

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posted by Aserne Venezuela @ 4:38 p.m. 

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