Dilma vs. Marina: Brazil's Left Contrasts its Two Models


Adrián Ibáñez is a political scientist


Within days of the decisive Brazilian presidential elections to be held on October 5, the result is still very unclear. There are only two certainties: they will require a second round on 26 October and that it will be between the current president, Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party, PT), and Marina Silva (Brazilian Socialist Party, PSB). Beyond this, successive polls move in the marshy ground of the margin of error when awarding the victory to one or the other, with slight daily fluctuations that prevent any solvent forecast to be made.

It does seem likely that, in the first round, Rousseff will be the winner with up to nine points distance from her main rival. But the other options' certain support to Silva in the runoff makes that initial advantage irrelevant. However, the composition of Congress (House and Senate) to be decided next October 5 is significant, as it will predict whether the next Brazilian president will enjoy a peaceful coexistence or not.

The current president was confident that she would easily repeat her mandate when, last 13 August, the governor of Pernambuco and PSB candidate, Eduardo Campos, died on a plane crash. His replacement by the charismatic Marina Silva–who was Campos' number two–has aborted Aécio Neves' possibilities (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, PSDB) to get to the second round and threatens Rousseff's victory.

It was then that Rousseff began to truly mobilize the powerful apparatus of the PT and of its ally, the PMDB, lubricated with the past eleven years of power, and decided to go for the strategy of fear. Along with her predecessor Lula da Silva, who continues to enjoy great popularity, she has tried to convince the new middle class that an eventual victory of Marina Silva would plunge the country into ungovernability (recalling the experience of former President Fernando Collor de Melo) and would end social programs like Bolsa Familia, or Minha Casa.

An intense mobilisation by Rousseff could be effective, considering that her main rival does not even control the PSB apparatus, that it is particularly strong only in Pernambuco and that Silva's training, Rede, is insignificant. This does not seem a trivial circumstance in a country the size of Brazil, with the importance of patronage networks woven under power. However, the country's dire economic situation–this year it will only grow 0. 8%–, the decline of social services and the lack of enthusiasm for the figure of Dilma Rousseff could neutralise fear's vote in favour of a change.

Marina Silva, a 56 year old environmentalist who already reached 19% of the votes in the presidential elections of 2010 and was Lula's Minister of Environment, only has the impact of her own figure, the promise of total change, the fight against corruption, the anti-PT vote and a good management of political marketing as weapons to thwart the PT apparatus. Everything rests on her person, but it seems enough to capitalise the change factor, so important for electoral strategists ever since Obama's first victory back in 2008.

Of humble origin, she connects with those new middle classes that have taken to the streets since June 2013 calling for political regeneration and better public services. She also has the advantage of being of evangelical confession (Brazil is the country with the highest number of evangelicals, 35% of the population), which will certainly neutralize her leftist profile and could win the entire anti-PT vote, though her anti-abortion or gay marriage ambiguity could lose her some support.

The third in dispute next October 5 will be Aécio Neves (PSDB), supported by the respected former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso (95-03), and the representative of Classical-Liberalism or centre right in this election. The former governor of Minas Gerais combines harsh attacks on Silva for her "amateurism" with the absolute certainty that his electorate (and his leadership) will support the environmentalist in the runoff in order to prevent another four years of Rousseff. However, it will be a tough loss for one of the core parties of Brazil and the real opposition of the PT since its coming to power.

The battle between Rousseff and Silva confronts two models which, from the left, offer different solutions to the stagnant Brazil of 2014. Businessmen trust that Marina Silva's victory will improve legal certainty in the country with an acceptable combination of economic orthodoxy and timely populist proposals, unloading their ground-breaking policies in the institutional and social context. Rousseff's continuity ensures the continuation of a failed model that could definitely plunge Brazil into a collapse of unforeseeable dimensions for an economy its size and with a middle class ready to make claims.

Similarly, in foreign policy, Marina Silva's victory can entail an opening of the country beyond the borders of Mercosur, with the signing of free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union or Japan. Many analysts are confident that Silva's foreign vision is much more open, less "Bolivarian", less "Third World" than the PT, and believe that she could defend democracy more in the region. In short, a model less defined than the one of the PT, but which could align itself with the most reasonable left of the continent.