monday, 27 october of 2014

Brazil Stays With Rousseff as President After Turbulent Campaign

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.

“People without much money have seen their lives improve during recent years,” said Liane Lima, 62, a secretary in São Paulo who voted for Ms. Rousseff. “I think we should let Dilma finish what she started.”

Indeed, Ms. Rousseff’s victory reflects broad changes in Brazilian society since the Workers Party rose to power 12 years ago with the election of her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who chose Ms. Rousseff as his successor to run in the 2010 election and campaigned for her again this year.

Building on an economic stabilization project put in place by the Social Democrats in the 1990s, Ms. Rousseff and Mr. da Silva aggressively expanded social welfare programs, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Pointing to the popularity of the antipoverty spending, Mr. Neves, the challenger in the race, said he would not scale it back.

But while Ms. Rousseff campaigned largely on her government’s support for poor and working-class citizens, she faced fierce criticism over her economic policies, with Brazil struggling with slow growth throughout her first term and a recession this year. Brazil’s financial markets gyrated wildly throughout the race, reflecting skepticism over her management of the economy.

Ms. Rousseff, 66, a former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship, rejected much of the criticism while emphasizing that she had no plans to shift away from policies involving greater state control over the economy. Still, she signaled openness to shaking up her cabinet, including replacing her unpopular finance minister, Guido Mantega.

In addition to facing turbulence in the markets, Ms. Rousseff will deal in her next four-year term with a sprawling scandal involving testimony of bribes and money laundering at Petrobras, the national oil company, which has eroded confidence in the Workers Party. A former high-ranking executive at Petrobras has testified that he channeled bribes to the party and its allies in Brasília.

“I always voted for the Workers Party, since I was a teenager, but this government hasn’t done anything different,” said José Abel, 48, who runs a tourist agency in Brasília and voted for Mr. Neves largely out of concern over corruption in Ms. Rousseff’s government. “They’re just the same as other parties now.”

Still, with the unemployment rate remaining near historical lows even during a recession, economic stability seemed to trump corruption as a major issue among voters. Many people who cast ballots on Sunday expressed concern that a change in government could erode welfare benefits which are now a fixture of society.

“My life is stable thanks to Dilma’s government,” said Diogo Bernardo, 28, an installer of telephone lines in Rio de Janeiro who voted for Ms. Rousseff, referring to her by her first name, as is common in Brazil. “She’s not great, but Aécio would have been worse since he cares less about the rights of working people. I voted for the lesser of two evils.”

Mr. Neves, in a televised speech conceding defeat, said that he had spoken with Ms. Rousseff and congratulated her.

“The largest of all priorities now is to unite Brazil,” he said. In her victory speech, Ms. Rousseff also called for reconciliation. “This president here is open to dialogue,” she said.

The thin margin of victory for the Workers Party revealed rifts in the country, with Ms. Rousseff winning easily in the relatively poor northeast while Mr. Neves comfortably won in São Paulo, Brazil’s richest and most populous state. Ms. Rousseff also won in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most populous state, where Mr. Neves was recently the governor.

With Ms. Rousseff set to govern for another term, the leftist Workers Party, which was created in 1980 in opposition to the military dictatorship ruling Brazil, is also poised to be in power for 16 years. Moreover, the party’s leaders have already said that they want Mr. da Silva, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, to run again in 2018.

While many Brazilians are clearly content with giving Ms. Rousseff another term, others are not so sanguine about one party being in power for so long.

Juliana Ribeiro Lima, an artist in São Paulo, said Sunday night after the results were announced that she was concerned about the possibility that the Workers Party could deepen its control of public institutions, as other political movements have done in Argentina and Venezuela.

“This creates doubts for me about staying in Brazil,” said Ms. Ribeiro Lima, 42. “I’ll find a way now to go abroad.”

Clóvis Rossi, a columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, pointed out that Ms. Rousseff faced two options after her win.

“Dilma can more or less think like this: I won the election with the country in a technical recession and inflation above the targets, so I’m going to continue down the same path and to hell with the critics,” he wrote on Sunday night.

He continued, “Or she can take note of strong opposition vote, and change her course.”

(Published by The New York Times - October 26, 2014)

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