The 2014 Brazilian Elections: The Current Situation

By: Juliana Moraes-Pinheiro, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

The 2014 Brazilian elections have demonstrated a series of extraordinary events. Since the end of the authoritarian military dictatorship almost 30 years ago, ordinary Brazilians have increasingly participated in the country’s democratic political process. The practice of politicians “buying votes” with the help of blackmail, along with false promises has become increasingly rare as Brazilians are better informed about their candidates and less skeptical about the country’s electoral system. It is not as easy to manufacture political support as it was in the past.

While Brazil has many political parties, two parties in particular have come to dominate the Brazilian political stage – one leaning left while the other leans to the right. Americans will find this scenario all too familiar, as in the United States; only the two main parties have been able to vie for higher political positions. This bipolar arrangement makes consensus difficult within Brazil’s governing institutions. In this election, a center-left party, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), was ahead by 9% in recent polls. However, with the death of its presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, in a tragic plane crash, the hopes for change has become far out of reach. [1]

The majority of non-elite Brazilians had been dreaming for the left to gain power for decades. This dream finally came true when the head of the Labor Party (PT) was elected in 2002.[2] Luis Inácio Lula da Silva— known as ‘Lula’—provided Brazil with a burst of programs to improve social and economic equality as well as raise living standards. For instance, under the Lula administration, the national poverty rate dropped from 22.4% in 2004 to 11.1% in 2011.[3] When Lula endorsed Dilma Rousseff as his successor in 2010, the people hoped Rousseff would follow the work of her mentor with the same intensity. However, Rousseff has managed to disappoint PT supporters by failing to live up to the ideology, charisma and leadership style of her predecessor. The rise of the bus fare in several states, along with sponsoring an exorbitantly expensive World Cup, has brought millions of dissatisfied Brazilians to the streets in protest in 2013.[4] Lula’s social reforms, included increasing access to higher education, strengthening the middle class, and improving opportunities for students from lower class backgrounds. It is ironic that these same students were protesting against Lula’s party while demanding improvements in the health, education, and security sectors as these were at the core of PT’s principles. One factor that has puzzled many observers is that the catalyst of the protests was the bus fare rise, which is not directly related with the executive branch of the government. Instead, these policies are controlled by local entities, such as city councils or state governments—which, in the case of São Paulo, is dominated by the right-wing Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB).[5]

Now, while some progressive voters say they will not vote for Dilma in Brazil’s upcoming October elections, many also say they would never vote for the right-wing opposition candidate either. The country’s right wing is currently being represented by Aécio Neves from the PSDB. Unlike the United States, in Brazil voting is compulsory. So, where are voters who previously supported Rousseff’s ruling PT party going to place their votes? Reports by Data Folha shows that about 27% of voters are going to vote null, a historical high, as a form of retaliation against the current administration.[6] At the same time, PSB surprisingly attracted high support, which was a first for a party outside of PT and PSDB. For the first time, there was a possibility of a candidate from a small party becoming a viable contender in major national elections.

Unfortunately, however, PSB representative and former governor of Pernambuco (North East Brazil) Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on August 12. What exactly does this mean for Brazil? In reality, Campos was not likely to win the 2014 elections. He was, however, a promising prospective candidate for the 2018 elections (or even later, given his young age of 49 years old), considering how much he was highly esteemed in his native state of Pernambuco where, ironically, PT is extremely popular. Campos had 80% approval as governor of Pernambuco.[7] Therefore it was likely that the PSB along with Eduardo Campos was going to take a significant number of votes away from Dilma in the North East region. However, following his tragic death, the situation has shifted dramatically.

Although Campos offered strong hopes of bringing balance to Brazil’s electoral process, the nation has not appeared ready to break the cycle of bipolar parties. During a recent forum at the Wilson Center, Paulo Sotero, the director of the Brazil Institute, responded to Data Folha’s statement about the influence of the World Cup over the elections. Sotero asserted that Brazilians are way too intelligent to think that if the Seleção won the cup it would have guaranteed Dilma’s reelection.[8] Additionally, certain public polls can be questionable, as a net result they tend to favor one party over the other.

The PSB fell into an almost incognito status with Campos’s death. The party was initially reluctant to choose Mariana Silva, Campos’s vice presidential candidate, to replace his position. However, the party has recently announced Silva as the presidential candidate for PSB. Together, they campaigned for justice and equality in the social, economic and environmental arenas. Without Campos, Silva might lose a large number of supporters, given her socially conservative and religious viewpoints.[9] Surprisingly, recent Data Folha polls have shown that Silva (21%) is likely to go to the run-off with Dilma (36%), as her percentages are higher than Aécio’s (20%).[10] The fact that another party outside of PT and PSDB dominance might have the potential to be in the run-off of a presidential election would be historic. If Silva does not run, Dilma might not even need to go to run-off as she can possibly win against Aécio in the first round. Without a doubt, the loss of Campos is bad for the country and its democratic process as his death has the power to reduce the smaller but still potent parties that gave further balance and progressiveness to the Brazilian political system. Now, the hopes are on Marina Silva to push forward for a broader political participation in Brazil where other parties can equally have representatives running for presidency. Whether she wins or not, the path that both herself and Campos have set PSB is already an advantageous one for the Brazilian democracy.

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[1] “Eduardo Campos morre em acidente de avião em Santos”. Carta Capital. August 13, 2014, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[2] “2002: Lula derrota a velha mídia”. Teoria e Debate. July 26, 2013, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[3] “Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line (% of population)” The World Bank Data – World Development Indicators. August 18,2014

[4] “Blogueiros Revelam Várias Caras e Causas de Protestos”. BBC Brasil. June 27, 2013, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[5] Marcel Gomes. “PSDB Governa São Paulo há 20 anos. Chegou a hora da mudança?” Carta Maior. April 4, 2014, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[6] Carlos Eduardo Lins Da Silva, Mauro Paulino, and Paulo Sotero “The Outlook of Brazil’s October Elections by the Country’s Leading Pollster.” The Outlook of Brazil’s October Elections by the Country’s Leading Pollster. Wilson Center, Washington D.C. 29 July 2014. Lecture.

[7] Carol Brito. “Governo de Eduardo tem aprovação de 80%.” Folha de Pernambuco. December 30, 2013, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[8] Carlos Eduardo Lins Da Silva, Mauro Paulino, and Paulo Sotero. “The Outlook of Brazil’s October Elections by the Country’s Leading Pollster.” The Outlook of Brazil’s October Elections by the Country’s Leading Pollster. Wilson Center, Washington D.C. 29 July 2014. Lecture.

[9] “Brazil: Marina Silva ‘to replace’ late candidate Campos.”BBC News Latin America and the Caribbean. August 16, 2014, accessed on August 18, 2014.

[10] Ricardo Mendonça. “Com 21% no 1º turno, Marina empataria com Dilma no 2º” August 18, 2014, accessed August 18, 2014.