As Brazil licks its wounds from a disastrous defeat at the hands of Germany, the end of the World Cup on 13 July will signal the beginning in earnest of the presidential campaign. The rout has not improved the mood of the electorate, and some commentators already think it will hurt President Dilma Rousseff’s chances.
Up until 30 June, political parties jockeyed for free air time, which is allocated in proportion to their weight in Congress. Out of every 25 minutes, Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) has 11 minutes 21 seconds, Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) has 4 minutes 33 seconds, and Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) has just 1 minute 54 seconds.
The candidates have now also chosen their respective vice-presidents: Rousseff retains Michel Temer in order to hold the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) in line; Neves has chosen Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira to ensure São Paulo’s support for his Minas Gerais–centered campaign; and Campos has enlisted Marina Silva to woo voters from the Sustainability Network (Rede Sustentabilidade).
Campos and Silva constitute an unlikely couple, as there are at least as many tensions between them as between PSB and its competition.
An IBOPE poll on 10 June indicates that for the first time the number of voters who regard the government as “bad” or “very bad” surpasses those who regard it as “good” or “very good.” Support for Rousseff has fallen from 40 percent in May to 38 percent – and her rejection index is growing.
The governing coalition consists of PT, PMDB, the Republican Party of the Social Order (PROS), the Progressive Party (PP), the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), the Communist
Party of Brazil (PCdoB), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), and Humanist Party of Solidarity (PHS).
On the eve of their conventions, parties allied with the government are applying pressure in order to increase their political capital. After the defection of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) – which has announced its support for Neves – PRB, PP, and PSD lobbied for improved conditions in exchange for their support.
PSD, led by Gilberto Kassab, convened its convention on 25 June in Brasília and invited Rousseff to participate. The party has offered its support to PMDB candidates in eight states and will support only one of 13 PT candidates for state governments.
At its national convention on 10 June, PMDB confirmed its support for the Rousseff–Temer ticket, but the margin of approval was narrower than in the previous campaign: down from 84.8 percent in 2010 to only 59.1 percent now. The party is obviously split and has made it clear that it has little appetite for campaigning for the president.
The Rousseff campaign
PT held its national convention in Brasília on 20 June and ratified Rousseff’s presidential candidacy with the slogan “More changes, more future.” The campaign strategy is to label Neves as the “candidate of the elite” and to invest in the southeast, where the president has low ratings, notably in São Paulo.
At the convention, which Rousseff did not attend, former president Lula da Silva and his colleagues also recycled an old slogan from 2012, to the effect that the party will undertake “a campaign so that hope overcomes hatred.” (At a speech in Porto Alegre on 6 June, he had nonetheless openly criticized aspects of Rousseff’s economic policy, such as credit security that has stifled investment, and demanded greater Brazilian investment in Africa.)
The former president will have an influential role in the campaign and the party will have at least six more candidates for governor than in 2010.
PT is looking for more space in the Rousseff campaign in order to force it to veer to the left. The party therefore wants to put such issues as media regulation and political reform on the table. The whole idea is to radicalize the party discourse and place it in direct opposition to PSDB.
Rousseff will have platforms in every one of Brazil’s 27 states. Her campaign will be based on comparing her tenure with the previous 20 years under Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, against a backdrop of strong state intervention in the economy. But this does not reflect the strong desire for change manifested by two-thirds of the electorate.
The Neves campaign
PSDB held its national convention in São Paulo on 14 June and formalized its nomination of Neves for presidential candidate. In his acceptance speech, he declared that “a tsunami will sweep over PT, and the country is experiencing the winds of change.”
Neves has managed to secure the support of several small parties: the Party of National Mobilization (PNM), the Labor Party of Brazil (PTB), the Christian Labor Party (PTC), and the National Labor Party (PTN). On 5 June, he received the formal support of the Rio de Janeiro section of PMDB, a significant factor. His support has grown from 20 to 22 percent, according to the 10 June IBOPE poll.
The economic guru of the Neves campaign is Armínio Fraga, a former president of the Central Bank and a partner in investment bank Gávea Investimentos. His policies rely heavily on the Real Plan, which was enacted 20 years ago to combat inflation.
In a recent interview in Valor Econômico, Fraga advocates a gradualist approach rather than “shock treatment” to reduce inflation or put fiscal policy on the path of better fiscal surpluses. He referred to the economy as “weak, frightened, and very defensive,” with little investment and little boldness. Uncertainty has a macroeconomic dimension, he noted, tied to low growth, high inflation, and a deficit in the current account.
Fraga asserted that the state has lost its capacity to invest. In each sector the existing rules and the way they are applied will have to be re-examined, and coordination between government departments will have to be reinforced.
On 17 June in Pernambuco, northeastern Brazil, Neves announced a program of aid to the region, which he called “a shock of infrastructure,” based on the “management shock” he successfully implemented while governor of Minas Gerais.
On 30 June with his choice of Ferreira for running mate, Neves put to rest rumors that the choice could fall on former governor José Serra. Serra, who has now decided he will run for the Senate, nevertheless continues to needle Neves by criticizing Fraga.
The Campos campaign
PSB held its regional convention in São Paulo on 20 June, ratifying its tactical alliance with PSDB and thus, support for the re-election of incumbent governor Geraldo Alckmin. In exchange, PSDB guaranteed the position of vice-governor on the ticket for PSB, although it did not specify a candidate.
PSB has thus secured a privileged position in the largest electoral college in the country. (In the third-largest, the state of Rio de Janeiro, PSB allied itself with PT.) Campos admits that PSB lacks strength in the large states, and it is for this reason that it has made local alliances with PSDB and PT.
Campos’s decision to abandon the “third way” in São Paulo and support the PSDB candidacy opened a rift with Marina Silva, who said that she wouldn’t appear at campaign events with Alckmin.
Campos has been taking steady jabs at the government. He said on 16 June that “the federal government is led by foxes who have stolen what they could.” Speaking on 29 June in Brasília, he said that voters don’t want alliances, and promised to pass a comprehensive tax reform during his first year in office, if elected.
His support, according to the IBOPE poll, has risen from 11to 13 percent over the past month, and Silva is responsible for an overall 5 point rise in voter support.
That said, voters want growth and change, and national political alliances have little bearing on what happens at ground level. Brazil is an enormous, complex, polycentric country, and what happens in the regions and states will determine the outcome of this crucial election.