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Dilma Rousseff re-elected: a missed chance to tackle corruption, cronyism and economic malaise

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Yesterday evening, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected to a second term in office. In a close race, the Workers’ Party incumbent defeated the pro-business Senator Aécio Neves by a 51.64% to 48.36% margin.

Amidst the Workers’ Party euphoria at having clung to power, some important questions need to be asked about the impact the election will have upon both the country’s economy and international standing. On both counts, the outlook is negative.

Observers of Brazilian politics often keenly note that the country is a tremendously polarised one. Yesterday’s results leave it more polarised still. By squeaking back into office by the narrowest of margins, Rousseff has unwittingly exploited divisions which run far deeper than traditional rich/poor sentiments but extend to a regional divide between the North and South of the country, the urban and the rural, the middle class and the impoverished.

Dilma Rousseff’s victory has a rather hollow feel to it and is a world away from the outpouring of optimism brought about by former President Lula’s victory in 2002. Lula, a master of the spoken word and the product of a spectacular political transformation from militant trade unionist to soothing social democrat, built his victories on a coalition of the working poor, aspirational middle classes and ambitious manufacturers. Instead, Dilma took a purely transactional approach; pledging generous social benefits to her base and deriding her pro-business opponents as aloof and uncaring. (Neves, of course, firmly pledged to protect cherished benefits programmes such as Bolsa Familia, ProUni and Minha Casa from any cuts).

In some respects, the Workers’ Party’s (PT) welfare policies have been a victim of their own success. It is indisputable that they have played a big part in lifting millions of people out of poverty and creating a burgeoning middle class that is better educated, better travelled and more socially mobile. With that, though, came problems for the PT: these people wanted more than the welfare state and the “old politics” of cronyism and corruption.

The first moment it because clear that Dilma would face a tough race was back in April of this year when thousands of mainly young, mainly middle class Brazilians took to the streets to protest at widespread corruption and excessive spending on the World Cup and Olympics. Rather than seek to provide this sector of the public – who overwhelmingly backed Neves – with an olive branch, she instead revered to an aggressive core vote, 50%+1 strategy. With the root of their concerns unaddressed, trouble will undoubtedly spill over again soon.

On an economic level, Rousseff’s re-election is nothing short of a catastrophe.

Trade protectionism is widespread – and will remain so under Dilma. In a country as poor as Brazil, it is plainly ridiculous that the most basic of electronic goods – from fridge freezers to cheap televisions – cost more than they do in the United Kingdom. How can it be logical that members of the country’s emerging middle class increasingly find it cheaper to board a budget flight to Miami to shop for clothes rather than heading for domestic shops? How much longer can industry sustain crippling import tariffs for critical machinery?

Brazil’s public spending is a mess. Under the Workers’ Party – and, more precisely, the Rousseff Presidency – the country’s deficit has grown to a gaping chasm, with a tax base unable to fund the state’s generous spending programmes.

Around 90% of the entire spending the state does each year is mandated by a range of arcane laws, many of which are hangovers from the 1980s. With Dilma having pledged to increase social welfare spending on the poorest Brazilians, she will have little room inside the budget to make economisations elsewhere to provide such funds. The Brazilian Congress, a famously dysfunctional body that is dominated by former footballers, telenovela actors and other assorted egotists, has no appetite to change this construct.

In order to keep her base happy, the Rousseff administration has adopted policies designed to keep gas and electricity prices artificially low. While this may have proved to be a clever pre-election trick that has kept inflation at a relatively comfortable level, the state lacks the financial resources to sustain such a policy. Prices will have to rise – and so will inflation.

Despite is reputation in recent years as a hard-charging growing economy, Brazil remains a dire place to do business. Even the most basic of tasks requires multiple, costly government permits. The risk of a government agency deciding to level crippling retrospective taxes is ever-present. What this system does is sustain a state bureaucracy – but it doesn’t bring about private sector growth. While Aecio Neves had made the elimination of red tape a key plank of his campaign, Dilma has remained tight-lipped on the issue.

The days when Brazil’s poor fiscal climate and red tape-saddled regulatory structure, underpinned by external demand and global growth, could sustain growth rates of more than 7% are long gone. This year, the economy will grow by little more than 1% – and that’s an optimistic calculation. A credit downgrade now looms.

On a foreign policy level, the Rousseff Government has adopted an at times bizarre “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” policy which has involved the expansion of cultural links with Iran and propping up machismo-fuelled administrations in Venezuela and Ecuador with economic aid. Such activities have been bitterly at odds with Brazil’s own domestic focus on the expansion of social and political rights, campaigns to eliminate racism and a liberal line on sexuality issues. While Aecio Neves had pledged to discontinue the Workers’ Party’s more recherché international projects, a second Rousseff administration will likely continue to build links with openly anti-American governments around the world – a dangerous position to be in, given the country’s precarious economic state.

There’s an old saying that “Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be”. I’ve never believed that – but I do struggle to see much hope for one as long as Dilma Rousseff remains President of the Republic.

The morning after the night before: observations on the 2nd round of the Brazilian Presidential election

dilmassLate yesterday evening, the results of the first round of the Brazilian Presidential election became clear.

After a tough campaign, the incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party scored a first-round victory with 42% of the vote.  In second place was the centre-right Minas Gerais Senator and former Governor Aecio Neves with 34%, followed by the ecologist Marina Silva. Rousseff and Neves will now advance to a second-round run-off on Sunday October 26th.

The campaign was one of the most exciting in Brazilian political history, with Neves surging in the last few days to overtake Silva for the run-off spot against Dilma.   With his campaign having been written off as doomed several weeks ago, his recovery is testament to his political skills and the discipline of his campaign operation.

This will be a close-fought race.  At this stage – the morning after the night before – here are some key observations…

Aecio’s second place finish wasn’t actually a big surprise – I have seen many tweets and media comments this morning describing Aecio’s second place finish as a “big surprise” or a “slap in the face for opinion pollsters”.  This isn’t actually true.   It is fair to say that the emphatic margin over third-place finisher and one-time favourite Marina Silva was surprising (he beat her 34% to 21%) but, as I noted on Saturday, Aecio’s surge at Marina’s expense had been clear for the past two weeks.  In a poll published early last week, Datafolha showed Marina Silva’s support down from its high of 34% on August 29th to 24%, with Dilma and Neves increasing their support from 34% to 40% and 15% to 21% respectively – both at her direct expense. By the eve of poll, both Ibope and Datafolha were recording narrow leads for Neves over Marina.

A “traditional” run-off – A run-off between Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva would have been terrific political theatre.  The contempt the two women have for one another was palpable throughout the campaign, with wicked scowls and finger-pointing abounding in their final debate performance.  It would also have been fascinating from a political perspective, with the middle-class (and now painfully bourgeois) former Marxist guerrilla Dilma being forced to defend her “socialist” record to a doughty mix-raced lady who didn’t learn to read until she was sixteen.   It was not to be.

Dilma and Aecio are both solidly establishment choices representing solidly establishment parties.  Both are wealthy, both are well educated and neither is particular exciting.  Dilma gives lip-service to the trade union movement but has never really been part of it.  Instead, she made her name as a left-aligned civil servant. Aecio talks about business and enterprise but was elected to Congress when he was 25 after his grandfather, a former President, stitched him up with a seat.

After an era when Lula, a former shoe shine boy, could be elected President, the country has return to an era of elitism in its politics.   Is this contest one between “left” and “right”?   Not really.  It’s a debate over slushy centrism.  Personalities, rather than ideas, will be at the heart of the campaign over the next three weeks.

Don’t apply “European” norms to Marina’s voters – It would be easy to look at Marina Silva’s personal background story and at times bellicose rhetoric anti-business rhetoric and conclude that her votes were almost certain to transfer en masse to Dilma in the second round.  Marina’s political appeal has long been built around an ecologist image (she served as a Green Party Senator) and this community has long shown itself to be more favourable to candidates of the Brazilian social democratic to centre-right than the Workers’ Party.  Green-inclined voters in Brazil are largely highly-educated people of a moderate to high income, living in affluent urban areas whose main preoccupation is with transparency, education standards and better governance rather than what we in Europe would think of as “green” issues.  They do not make natural bedfellows with the trade union movement-aligned Workers’ Party.

A poll conducted two weeks ago showed that 70% of Aecio Neves’ supporters would have voted for Marina in a second-round run-off.  Frustratingly, the expectation at that time of a Marina/Dilma run-off meant that comparative figures for what Marina’s backers would do in the case of a Dilma/Aecio contest are not available.  However, polling does show that self-described “right-wing” voters stated they would have backed Marina over Dilma by a 49% to 35% margin, “centre-right” voters would have broken 50% to 38% for Marina and “centrists” 48% to 43%.

Dilma has the clear advantage – The basic fact is that, with 42% of the national vote, Dilma has a much easier path to 50%+1 than Aecio Neves does.  In order to win, he would now need to secure roughly three-quarters of Silva’s votes, as well as those of the left-leaning Luciana Genro and Pastor Everaldo who got 3% between them.   It’s not impossible – but it is unlikely.

As usual, the centre-right was under polled – This was the third consecutive cycle in which the strength of the pro-business, centre-right candidate was underestimated in the first round.  In 2010, the final pre-election polls showed José Serra on 26% when he actually received 32% while in 2006 Geraldo Alckmin’s support was underestimated by 13% – 29% to 42%.  Last night, Neves received 34% of the first-round vote, when final polls from the country’s two leading pollsters Datafolha and Ibope showed him on 24% and 27%.  One can debate the reasons for this under-sampling until the cows come home but I put part of this down to the disproportionately strong showing the centre-right nominee always scores on the largest state Sao Paulo (Neves received 44% of the vote– and roughly a third of his entire votes nationally there), whose 44 million population is larger than the smallest sixteen of the country’s twenty-seven states combined.  The weighting simply doesn’t take into account the “Sao Paulo factor”.

Who would you like to have a cerveja with? – Dilma is a “known quantity”.  Very few people in Brazil like her; even fewer love her.  Her supporters do, however, respect her competence and sincerity while admitting she is unable to put on the same oratorical fireworks or issue the same raw emotional appeals as her predecessor Lula.  People’s views about Dilma are not going to change in the next few weeks and nor will her political presentation – she’ll be solid, combative and sharp.  She won’t be likeable, though.   Aecio Neves remains a political unknown in many parts of the country, yet has shown a likability and fluidity on the campaign trail that marked him out from the other candidates.  If voters were asked who they wanted to have a “cerveja” with, he’d win.  That likeability could well translate into votes.

For 2018 candidates, look to Sao Paulo – Just as Sao Paulo played a decisive role in propelling Aecio Neves to a strong second-place finish, the state also produced a couple of notable results which those taking a longer look at the 2018 Presidential contest should not ignore.  The state’s popular Governor Geraldo Alckmin scored a landslide re-election victory, with 57% and more than 12 million votes.  Simultaneously, voters sent former Health Secretary, Mayor and Governor Jose Serra to the Federal Senate with 58% of the vote, defeating a veteran Senator and popular former Mayor in the process.  Sao Paulo is where the political power and money is in Brazil.  If Neves doesn’t manage to pull off a victory on October 26th, expect the two men to reach an accommodation as to which of them becomes the Sao Paulo centre-right’s standard bearer in 2018.

Brazilian Presidential election – things to look out for tomorrow

imageBrazilians will tomorrow go to the polls to vote in the country’s Presidential election. With voting compulsory, a total of almost 120,000,000 votes will be cast; from the lush Amazonas in the North West the to rocky, wind-swept plains of Rio Grande do Sul in the South.

As we approach the final hours of the campaign, there are a few observations that can be made…

Dilma Rousseff is likely to be re-elected – Since the very start of the campaign, the incumbent President Dilma Rousseff has led in the opinion polls. Aside from a brief period at the start of September, polling has shown her with a comfortable lead in the second round run-off with either the centre-right challenge Aécio Neves or ecologist candidate Marina Silva. 45% of voters are currently set to hand her their first round vote – not far off what she needs for an absolute majority. She won’t clear that hurdle tomorrow but she is likely to on October 26th.

For Marina Silva, an expectations/capabilities gap¿ – The main centre-left challenge to the incumbent Rousseff was supposed to come from Eduardo Campos, the popular and telegenic Governor of the northern state of Pernambuco. On 13th August, his plane tragically crashed in poor weather when coming in to land for a campaign stop in the city of Santos in São Paulo state, killing Campos and several campaign ads. Following several days of national mourning that took place across Brazil for the loss of this promising, young political leader, he was replaced as Socialist Party nominee by his Vice-Presidential candidate Marina Silva.

The two individuals could not be more different. While Campos had sought to cultivate a solidly (or even slavishly) pro-business record alongside the expansion of social programmes for the working poor, Silva was a radical environmentalist and feminist Senator with a habit of attacking the establishment. While Campos was part of Brazil’s wealthy political aristocracy (his grandfather also served as Governor of Pernambuco), Silva is one of eleven mixed-race children who grew up working on a rubber plantation and only learned to read when she was sixteen.

A mixture of sympathy for Campos’ death and a genuine excitement amongst many sections of Brazilian society about Silva’s life story saw her shoot into a dramatic poll lead in the days following his funeral. While, on August 6th, Campos had been polling well behind both Dilma and Neves on 9% she was tied with the incumbent on 34% by August 29th.

Since then, there has been a considerable degree of “unwind” in her support. The respected polling firm Datafolha has shown her support down from a high of 34% on August 29th to 24% today, with Dilma and Neves increasing their support from 34% to 40% and 15% to 21% respectively – both at her direct expense.

A “traditional” run-off? - While the media narrative has, for the past weeks, pointed at a run-off between Marina Silva and Dilma Rousseff, this is now in serious doubt. Neves has clawed back significant ground since Campos’s death – to the point where one could claim he now has “momentum” – and his campaign has both a very strong infrastructure in the biggest states across the country and institutional support from a string of powerful Senators and Governors. Silva’s campaign remains a disorganised and renegade effort – despite her strong standing nationally. The final poll of registered voters that were “certain” to go to the polls, showed Dilma ahead on 45% with Silva on 27% and Neves on 24% – effectively too close to call in respect of who will go through to the second round. We may yet see a “traditional” left/right run-off.

Will the debates damage Dilma and Silva? - Thursday night’s televised debate between the seven (yes, seven) candidates for President was one of the most poorly-natured and caustic events in Brazilian political history. The downright contempt Silva and Rousseff have for one another was palpable with both candidates firing rhetoric bombs at one another and repeatedly invading in each other’s personal space in a manner reminiscent of Rick Lazio’s disastrously aggressive attack on Hillary Clinton in the 2000 New York Senate race. Neither of the two women covered themselves in glory. Behind in the polls, Aécio Neves needed do little more than smile, sound constructive and drive up his positive ratings – which post-debate polls show he did effectively.

Will the centre-right be under-polled again? – Brazilian opinion polls have a habit of slightly understating the support for centre-right candidates. The reason for this, I believe, is that right-leaning candidates have disproportionate strength in wealthy and populous São Paulo and its surrounding states and can therefore be diluted by (ordinarily sensible) efforts to weight polls to reflect the country’s average make-up. In 2010, for example, final first round polls showed José Serra on 26% when he actually received 32% while in 2006 Geraldo Alckmin’s support was underestimated by 13% – 29% to 42%. If this polling anomaly occurs again, it could see Neves surging into a surprise second-place finish.

An unholy coalition? – Despite Marina Silva’s background as a radical environmentalist, there is an increasing feeling amongst many on the Brazilian centre-right that a Silva Presidency may well be preferable to the continuation of Workers’ Party rule under Dilma Rousseff. Firstly, despite Silva’s background story, she has been relatively light on policy specifics. Her life story has been her political appeal, not her pledges. Secondly, if she was to be elected, Silva would lack almost any party political supporters in the Federal Congress and Senate. This has led to some, such as the former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to hint that centrist to centre-right forces could do a deal with Silva to provide her with a workable majority in Parliament. Polling shows that up to 70% of Neves supporters would be “open” to backing Silva over Rousseff in a second round run-off. We could yet see the intriguing prospect of the two, left-leaning women scrambling to set out pro-market policies in order to secure support from the quarter or so of the population that favour Neves.

Expect a quick count - Voting in Brazil is carried out electronically, with voters entering the numeric code of their candidate (i.e. 40 for Marina Silva) in order to make their choice. After entering the number, a photo of the candidate and their name appears and a confirmation button is then pressed to record the vote. With the process being fully automated, hundreds of millions of votes can be tallied within a couple of hours of the polls closing. As such, first round results should be clear by before midnight GMT tomorrow evening.

Brazilian Presidential election – 42% favour Dilma while Neves and Campos vie for run-off slot

candidatesLast week, I wrote a blogpost highlighting the new (and somewhat unholy) electoral alliance between former Green Senator Marina Silva and Pernambuco Governor Eduardo Campos.

Given that Silva had been polling in a clear second place behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff, her decision to support Campos only came about as a result of her failure to legally register her own political party by the deadline required for Presidential candidates.  Given that the highest support Campos had received in national polls to date was 8%, Silva’s exit had the potential to dramatically re-align the race.  And it has.

The latest Datafolha poll issued this weekend shows Dilma at 42% in the first round, the centre-right alliance’s Aecio Neves at 21% and Eduardo Campos at 15%.

One of the golden rules of polling in the United States – admittedly a much different landscape to Brazil – is that incumbents can only be considered “safe” if their stated support in early polls exceeds 50%+1.  It would be fair to say that Dilma remains in a dominant position at this stage in the cycle but, with only four in ten voters expressing a willingness to vote for her in the first round, these numbers are troubling for her.

With Silva’s exit, there was also the possibility that some of her hardened left-wing supporters may have returned to Dilma as the “best worst” option in a battle between the avowedly-establishment Neves and relatively unknown Campos.  In reality, her supporters seem to have transferred relatively evenly to both Campos and Neves.

If the two men can successfully polarise the Brazilian political landscape to the extent that 45% of voters stay doggedly loyal to Dilma, yet 55% are willing to vote for “anybody but Dilma” in the second round, either of them could find a path to victory.  It will be fascinating to see how the two men approach campaigning against each other as the race hots up.  Not being toxic to one another’s voter base will be crucial.

In the unlikely instance that Campos was to stand aside as the Socialist Party’s nominee (possibly to accept the Vice-Presidential role on a Marina Silva-led ticket), Dilma would poll 39% to Silva’s 29% and Neves’ 17%.  Silva hasn’t ruled this possibility out – but it would appear to be run contrary to her agreement with Campos and the wider Socialist Party.

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Looking beyond the headline figures, there’s one observation I think it more significant than any other.

Datafolha polled a third scenario which pitted Dilma against former Sao Paulo Mayor/Governor Jose Serra and Campos.  In this case, Dilma led 40 to Serra’s 25% and Campos’ 15%.  The inclusion of Jose Serra in this poll only seeks to highlight Neves’ relative strength in national polls.

Jose Serra has been a mainstay of Brazilian politics for more than twenty years, had a stellar record as Health Minister in the Cardoso administration and was the second-placed finisher to Lula in 2002 and Dilma in 2010.  Everyone knows him.  Nevertheless, his support doesn’t exceed 25% in national polls.  While Neves remains pretty much unknown outside his own state of Minas Gerais and amongst upper middle-class voters in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the fact he still polls 15% in a Dilma/Serra race and 21% against Dilma and Campos speaks to the strength of his candidacy.  Additionally, Neves hasn’t had the same kind of PR boost as that handed to Campos but is now polling in a clear second place.

With a year to go until polling day, Neves has a hell of a long way to grow.  It’s worth noting that, a year out from the 2010 elections, Dilma’s support in national polls stood at only 16%.

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You can find the full crosstabs of the poll here.

Brazilian Presidential election – Marina Silva’s exit shakes up the race, boosts Eduardo Campos

imageOne of the biggest surprises of the last Brazilian Presidential election was the expectedly strong showing by Green Party nominee Marina Silva.

While the majority of the race’s focus was trained on Workers’ Party candidate (and now President) Dilma Rousseff and the centrist Jose Serra, Silva’s quietly effective campaign saw her pick up 19% of the first round vote.

Since then, Silva has been a ubiquitous presence in Brazilian public life; staging rallies across the country, appearing on numerous television programmes and writing numerous newspaper op-eds. It was fairly clear to Brazilians that Silva was gearing up to run again in the 2014 election and polls repeatedly showed her to be the strongest possible challenger for Rousseff. Indeed, one poll last month showed her trailing Rousseff by only 14% in the first round of voting – 36% to 22%.

The snag for Silva, however, is that she didn’t have a political party. She left the Greens shortly after the 2010 election after a series of bust-ups with other members who were none to happy at Silva’s attempts to dominate the party. Brazilian Greens don’t confirm to the Western European stereotype of long-haired tree-huggers wearing tie-dye t-shirts but are ordinarily rather scholarly, cultured and wealthy in the mould of an effete Manhatten Democrat or Islington Liberal Democrat. Silva’s outspoken radicalism rather jarred with the party membership.

Under Brazilian law, a candidate must be a member of a political party’s for a year prior to a general election. In order to meet this requirement, Silva sought to gather the 492,000 needed to register her ‘Sustainability Movement’ as a political party. Regrettably for her, the Supreme Electoral Court found roughly 100,000 of her signatures to be invalid, leaving her 5,000 signatures short of what was need to form a party. Her appeal against the ruling was rejected on Thursday, leaving her until only Saturday October 5th (yesterday) to join a party and qualify to run in next year’s Presidential election.

Yesterday evening, Silva shocked the political establishment by joining the Brazilian Socialist Party and throwing her support to the party’s Presidential nominee Eduardo Campos, the popular Governor of the northern state of Pernambuco. Her decision has totally upended the election.

Over the past year, Silva’s support in 2014 polls has risen steadily from 18% to around 25% while Campos’ has been steady at around 5%. It’s clear what Campos has to gain from her endorsement but rather less obvious what advantage Silva gains.

Her decision is a politically risky one.

Firstly, it is far from clear that her largely poor and predominantly ethnic minority voters will be comfortable with backing the white and wealthy Campos. It’s possible she could be dismissed by these groups as having betrayed them by selling out to the political establishment, driving them into the hands of other leftist groups. There are plenty of other people active in Brazilian politics who could appeal to Silva’s base – including Rio de Janeiro Congresswoman Benedita “Bene” da Silva and former Alagoas Senator Heloisa Helena.

Secondly, by boosting Campos’ profile nationally she risks turning him into the de facto ‘leader of the opposition’ and helping him position himself for another run at the presidency in 2018 when Rousseff is term-limited. There is talk of her joining the Campos ticket as Vice-President but, as we all know, it’s the Presidential nominee that gets all the attention, not the Veep.

Thirdly, her alliance risks dividing left-wing voters between the incumbent President and the currently little-known Campos, making it more likely that the centre-right candidate Aecio Neves will make it to the second round. With Dilma’s polling numbers gradually declining, the popular and eloquent Neves may well have a shot at defeating her. It’s hard to see her supporters being happy with such an eventuality. As such, it may well have been wise for her to have exit the race and “risen above politics” rather than backing Campos.

Given how surprising Silva’s announcement was yesterday, no polling has yet been conducted on how it will impact upon next year’s election. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how her exit will shift the race.

Brazilian Presidential election 2014 – Dilma Rousseff: the establishment choice?

dlaIt’s now a little over a year until the next Brazilian Presidential election and the voting intention polls are starting to come thick and fast.

Last month, I wrote a piece examining the latest favourability ratings for President Dilma Rousseff and the polling match-ups between each of the main contenders for the presidency.  Looking at the results, I concluded that Dilma Rousseff’s personal popularity ratings had taken a hit following the summer riots but, barring the entry of former President Lula into the race, she remained the front-runner.

In some respects, nothing has really changed.  This month’s poll Ibope poll shows Dilma’s popularity ticking up slightly as the negative impact of the riot dissepates.  Ibope shows the proportion of people who judge her administration to be “good” or “excellent” increasing from 31% to 38% since July.  This is still way down from the 54% “good”/”excellent” rating she scores in June, suggesting that she hadn’t quite been forgiven by all voters yet.

The most interesting part of the poll for me, however, was the figures that show Rousseff leading former Environment Minister Marina Silva by a 38% to 19% margin with Senator Aecio Neves down at 13%.   Another poll published by MDA in the O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper has Dilma at 36%, Silva at 22% and Neves at 15%.

These are probably the tenth consecutive sets of polls I have seen that shows Silva with a clear hold on second place behind Dilma.

If this trend was to continue all the way up to election day and Dilma were to be denied a 50%+1 first round election victory, there would be a run-off between her and Silva.

What would this mean?  Well, it would mean a landslide victory for Dilma.

While the President is a member of the Workers’ Party who claim to be a party of the radical left, their cosy relations with business groups and industrialists cast more than a shadow of doubt upon their genuine leftist credentials.  Silva, on the other hand, is a genuine creature of the left – an ecologist who is staunchly opposed to big business.

The majority of middle class and better educated voters are likely to vote for Senator Neves in the first round yet would, in a Dilma/Silva match-up, strongly line up behind the incumbent.  Dilma may preside over a system of government they see as corrupt and bureaucratic but the thought of a Silva administration and its talk of reneging on international debts, introducing moratoriums on oil drilling and gas exploration and putting up trade barriers against the EU and United States is viewed as unconsicionable.

As anyone who follows Brazilian politics would tell you, opinion polls in the country have a habit of changing rapidly.  As we get closer to the campaign’s formal kick-off, it’s likely that Ms Silva will struggle to compete with the financial resources of Rousseff and Neves.  For now though, it’s interesting to think that the Workers’ Party, who fought so hard and long against “the establishment”, stand at least a change of becoming the party of the establishment.

Dilma government refuses to back Syrian opposition

It came as little surprise to me to read this morning that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has refused join the steadily-increasing number of governments who have recognised the Syrian opposition coalition formed in Doha last week as the country’s legitimate government.

The Brazilian government has instead expressed issued a statement expressing its concern at the worsening violence in the country and called for an enlarged role for the United Nations in solving the conflict.  This stance is sadly entirely characteristic of Brazilian foreign policy over the last decade: abdicate responsibility and continue calling for multi-lateral solutions even when, as in this case, the time for UN-led negotiations has long since passed. Decepcionante…

What makes this decision all the more difficult to understand is that there is a significant number of senior political figures of Lebanese descent currently serving in the upper echelons of the Brazilian government who will no doubt be extremely familiar with the Syrian occupation of Lebanon that was in place for thirty years from 1976 to 2006.  Lebanese-Brazilians a enjoy significant influence of Brazil’s economic, cultural and political life – their ranks including Vice-President Michel Temer, Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin and outgoing Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab.  Widespread protests by the influential Lebanese community could prove vital to forcing President Rousseff to change tack.

Last December I wrote an article for The Commentator expressing my outrage that Brazil had abstained from a vote on United Nations Security Council voted on Resolution 1973 ordering Muammar Gaddafi to call a ceasefire against opposition rebels and imposing a ‘no fly zone’ over Libya.  What was the Brazilian government’s solution to stop the carnage?  They issued a press release calling for “dialogue” between Gaddafi and the rebels.

In the piece, I argued that the Rousseff administration ought to refocus its approach to international relations in order to achieve a leadership role on human rights issues amongst countries in the new global democratic order.  In light of the country’s refusal to back the Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow the barbaric Assad regime, I’d say the article is as relevant today as it was then:

Brazil’s long-held belief in a foreign policy which actively avoids military conflict in favour of diplomacy need not fundamentally change. What must change, however, is the country’s willingness to sacrifice its own passion for the defence of human rights and democracy in the pursuit of a high-minded yet spineless policy of non-interventionism at almost all costs.

An aversion to sending troops into combat need not result in a refusal to impose trade barriers, cut off Brazilian government aid or to back the international community in UN resolutions condemning tyranny.

President Rousseff must ask herself a simple question: does Brazil want to lead a new global democratic order or continue as a quisling state that stands idly by while the same hatreds and injustices that once plagued Brazil rage on its border and overseas?

You can take a look at the extended piece by clicking here.