A Tale Of Two Brazils


Jan Piotrowski discusses the results of Sunday’s other big election, in which incumbent president Dilma Rousseff, head of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), narrowly won re-election over her center-right, pro-market competitor Aécio Neves:

The upshot is that the president will lead a riven country. She romped to victory across swathes of the poor north and north-east—helped by less fortunate Brazilians’ gratitude for the PT’s popular social programmes, but also her campaign’s baseless insistence that Mr Neves would do away with them. Most of the richer south, south-east and centre-west plumped convincingly for her market-friendly rival.

“Despite winning the presidency for the fourth time in a row,” Anthony Pereira writes, “this was not a particularly good election for the PT “:

The party lost 18 seats in the lower house of Congress (though it remains the largest party) and one seat in the Senate (where it is the second-largest bloc). Congress as a whole has become more conservative and more fragmented, its 22 parties swelling to 28. The PT did win five governorships, but only one of them, Neves’s state of Minas Gerais, is in the populous and wealthy south-east. That means the centrist PMDB, a party committed to almost nothing except supporting the government in exchange for patronage, will once again be Dilma’s most important – and most problematic – political partner. The PT’s base, meanwhile, is clearly no longer the solid coalition it once was.

Mac Margolis casts doubt on Dilma’s ability to reunite the country, or even her own government:

Magnanimity is the victor’s disclaimer, but not once in her 27-minute rambling victory lap did Rousseff mention Neves or acknowledge the vote that clove Brazil in two. Lula Inc. don’t do gracious. What their Workers’ Party does do is power, and this is where Rousseff’s victory could sour. It’s not just the widening of the congressional aisle she must reach across. The hazard lies in her own court. Rousseff sits astride a nine-party coalition, where the appetites for patronage and power are now sharper.

Dom Phillips highlights the large numbers of Brazilians who didn’t vote for her, or anybody:

Rousseff needs to address another serious problem: corruption. A total of 54 million people voted for her, but 51 million voted for her opponent. A staggering 30 million simply abstained, even though voting is obligatory in Brazil, while more than seven million voted for no party. This represents a very high rejection of the Workers’ Party, a very real contempt for its repeated sleaze scandals and a widespread distrust of politicians of all stripes.

Pointing to the country’s troubled economy, the Bloomberg View editors advise Dilma to get cracking on reform:

Brazil’s economy entered a recession last quarter, and inflation is running above its targeted range. A global slowdown has hit the prices of commodities that comprise almost half its exports. Its budget deficit is widening, its credit rating in peril. Its economy remains hampered by a Byzantine tax system and formidable thicket of labor regulations. Thanks in part to its poor business climate, Brazil garners less investment than any other member of the BRICS (18 percent of its gross domestic product versus 31 percent for India). Upon news of her re-election, Brazil’s markets and currency promptly tanked. So what can Rousseff do? Her promise to revamp her cabinet offers the opportunity both to bring the country together politically and move it forward economically.

But Juan Carlos Hidalgo doubts she will move in that direction:

Can Rousseff deliver reform? Doubtful. As Mary O’Grady points out today in the Wall Street Journal, “Ms. Rousseff ran as the anti-market, welfare-state candidate.” With an economy not even growing by 1% and a stubbornly high inflation rate, the question Brazilians are asking themselves is whether Rousseff will reform or instead double-down on interventionist policies. One area to pay particular attention to is freedom of the press. What we’ve seen in a number of other Latin American countries ruled by left-wing governments is that, as the economy sours and corruption scandals mushroom, the authorities push for more regulations on the media. Will Brazil follow this pattern? There are good reasons not to be optimistic about Brazil in the next four years.

Meanwhile, Daniel Altman suspects we haven’t seen the last of Aécio – nor of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma’s political godfather:

As I’ve written here before, parties with a stranglehold on their countries for many years tend to become complacent and even crooked. Rousseff’s Workers Party will complete 16 years in the Palácio do Planalto at the end of her second term. At that point, it’s conceivable and even likely that Lula would come back and run again at the age of 72. Rousseff will have to earn him that third term. For now, given her record, the odds of Neves running again and winning must be quite high. He’s only 54, and hey — it took Lula four attempts to win the country’s highest office.