Watching The World

Published: Thursday October 9, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday October 9, 2014 MYT 7:09:16 AM

Half-time for Brazil

: D'Avila (right) first became an elected official at the age of 23.

: D'Avila (right) first became an elected official at the age of 23.

An increasingly polarised nation needs to get back on track.

OCTOBER is a really exciting month for election watchers. From Bulgaria to Botswana, Ukraine to Mozambique and Tunisia to Bosnia, voters are headed to the polls. In South America, no less than three left-wing populist governments are facing a critical test. With deference to the votes in Bolivia and Uruguay, it’s clear the biggest one of all is in Brazil.

It’s been a crazy, topsy-turvy time for Brazil’s people these last couple of years. Despite the glowing record of the Worker’s Party rule under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from 2002-2010, his successor Dilma Rousseff is not enjoying an easy ride.

Brazil’s economic growth, which was once among the fastest in the world, slowed to a crawling speed of 0.2% in the first quarter of 2014. Last year, there were massive street protests against Rousseff’s administration. And the country suffered a collective nightmare at the 2014 World Cup when the national team collapsed spectacularly, losing 7-1 to Germany.

This was supposed to be a straightforward election, parked neatly between Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, showcasing the nation’s status as a superpower-in-waiting.

Now it has turned out to be anything but. Even though the first round of elections on Oct 5 is over, it is still far from clear who, if anyone, will emerge stronger after the second presidential run-off on Oct 28.

The reason is that whether it is Rousseff or her rival Aécio Neves of the Brazil Social Democracy Party, the new president will face a highly fractured parliament in which no less than 28 parties are represented.

Early signs are that Rousseff’s unwieldy coalition of nine parties will still control both the chamber of deputies and the senate. Rousseff’s coalition includes parties ranging from the centre-right to the Communist Party of Brazil.

However, losing one of its principal allies the Brazilian Socialist Party could prove decisive, as the latter not only brings a number of seats with it but actually ended up providing a strong third party candidate for president.

In fact, Rousseff could be hurt by the hostile campaign she had to fight against BSP candidate Marina Silva, an ex-Workers’ Party minister who only entered the race after original candidate Eduardo Campos died in a plane crash in August.

The Workers’ Party itself, however, lost seats and its diverse coalition means a diluting of the social revolution. No party will have more than 70 of the lower house’s 513 seats, not even the two battling for Brazil’s presidency: the leftist Workers’ Party of Rousseff and the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) of Neves.

Those following the elections would have noticed some interesting candidates retaining their seats, including footballing legends Bebeto and Romario, as well as full-time clown Tiririca. Gorgeous Communist deputy Manuela D’Avila also won easily in Rio Grande do Sul.

Workers’ Party supporter Guigo Barros Filho feels that crunch time is here. “Rousseff may lose, the second round will be tough,” he told me, echoing the view that many who voted for Silva may switch their support to Neves.

“It also looks like Congress will be more conservative. Only a few state governors have changed, but the Workers’ Party won a big state (Minas Gerais, land of Neves) and for the first time, the Communist Party won a state in Maranhao,” he said.

Another old friend of mine, Camila Artoni Gough is less pleased with the status quo, however. Gough, who is currently based in Australia, said: “I think the idea that people outside Brazil have of our progress is an illusion. Sure, some advancement was made to lift the very poor above the poverty line but there has been crazy corruption, no investment in industries/infrastructure and the bubble of growth will burst.

“I think Brazil’s appalling performance at the World Cup is very symbolic – so many expectations but in the end it was a disaster.

“It’s totally depressing because I’m not convinced Neves is the right choice to fix things – even though I have tended to support PSDB in the past – I think all options were poor. The country is very divided and my opinion is not everyone’s obviously seeing Rousseff’s share of votes.”

So there you have it. Half-time and all to play for in one of the world’s largest and most fascinating democracies.

> Star online news editor Martin Vengadesan believes that Brazil is a sleeping giant that needs to wake up.

Tags / Keywords: Martin Vengadesan

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: D'Avila (right) first became an elected official at the age of 23.

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