Brazilian voters re-elected Dilma Rousseff as president on Sunday, endorsing a leftist leader who has achieved important gains in reducing poverty and keeping unemployment low over a centrist challenger who castigated her government for a simmering bribery scandal and a sluggish economy. Ms. Rousseff of the Workers Party took 51.4 percent of the vote in the second and final round of elections, against 48.5 percent for Aécio Neves, a senator from the Social Democracy party and scion of a political family from the state of Minas Gerais, electoral officials said Sunday night with 98 percent of votes in the country counted. While Ms. Rousseff won by a thin margin, the tumultuous race was marked by accusations of corruption, personal insults and heated debates, revealing climbing polarization in Brazil. Mr. Neves surged into the lead this month in opinion surveys, only to be eclipsed by Ms. Rousseff as the vote on Sunday approached.
Brazil’s left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected Sunday in the tightest race the nation has seen since its return to democracy three decades ago, after a bitter campaign that divided Brazilians like no other before it. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Rousseff had 51.5 percent of the ballots, topping center-right challenger Aecio Neves with 48.5 percent. Rousseff’s victory extends the rule of the Workers’ Party, which has held the presidency since 2003. During that time, they’ve enacted expansive social programs that have helped pull millions of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class.
Brazilian voters electing a new president this weekend are being asked to decide what scares them least: the incumbent’s warnings about the “ghosts of the past,” or her challenger’s charges about the “monsters of the present.” The latest polls give left-leaning incumbent Dilma Rousseff a slight edge in Sunday’s runoff vote to lead the world’s fifth-largest nation. But few people are counting out centre-right challenger Aecio Neves after a topsy-turvy campaign that has been the most competitive, divisive and dramatic since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. “The country is divided in two, with half feeling that social inclusion and protections are what matter most, and the other half believing that macroeconomic stability is more important,” said Carlos Pereira, a political analyst at the Gertulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil’s leading think-tank . “The candidate who convinces voters he or she is best prepared to combine these two beliefs and make them complementary will win Sunday’s election.” The race turned dramatic after Eduardo Campos, a main opposition candidate, was killed when his campaign plane crashed in August. His running mate, renowned environmentalist Marina Silva, was thrust into his spot, and she immediately jumped to a double-digit lead over Rousseff and Neves. Silva initially tapped into the discontent over poor public services that millions of Brazilians expressed in anti-government protests last year, but her campaign never found its feet and voters drifted away from her within weeks. That opened the gap for Neves to stage his surprisingly strong showing in the Oct. 5 first-round vote, coming in second and forcing Rousseff into a runoff when her first-place finish didn’t get an absolute majority.
LIKE voters in most democracies, Brazilians pay little heed to foreign policy when choosing leaders. Yet the presidential election on October 26th matters not just to Brazil but to the region. Over the past two decades Latin America’s giant has overcome its introversion and wielded growing influence in its backyard. And on foreign policy, as on economics, there is a clear gap between President Dilma Rousseff of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT), who wants a second term, and her rival, Aécio Neves, of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). Brazil’s greater assertiveness began under Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB in the 1990s and continued under the PT’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president in 2003-10. Both gave importance to the Mercosur trade block (founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), to South America and to ties with Africa and Asia. Both had reservations about a 34-country Free-Trade Area of the Americas, a plan that Lula helped to kill. But there were differences, too, partly because of Brazil’s changing circumstances. Lula put far more stress on “south-south” ties and on the BRICs grouping (linking Brazil to Russia, India, China and later South Africa). In Latin America he emphasised “political co-operation”. Relations with the United States were cordial but distant, especially after Lula tried brokering a nuclear deal with Iran which the White House opposed.
Brazil is on tenterhooks. With five days to go before the presidential run-off on October 26th the race remains too close to call. But for the first time since the first round of voting two weeks ago the left-wing incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, has gained ground. On October 20th a poll by Datafolha put Ms Rousseff four points ahead of Aécio Neves, her centre-right challenger; last week Mr Neves was leading by a whisker. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. Ms Rousseff’s campaign, as cynical as it is formidable, has relentlessly (and unfairly) bashed the market-friendly Mr Neves for wanting to slash social programmes and govern solely for the rich elite. It has also attacked his record as governor of Minas Gerais, a big state which has just elected a governor from Ms Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) and where she beat Mr Neves in the first round (in part because the opposition vote was split between him and Marina Silva, a charismatic centrist who came third overall). “People who know Aécio don’t vote for him,” blare PT television ads, conveniently omitting to mention that whenever Mr Neves himself stood for elected office in Minas, he strolled to victory.