Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2014 Brazilian Presidential elections are no longer “done and dusted” as the Curmudgeon imagined a month ago. The “hearts and minds” contest has been won by the minds. All these add up to: Marina Silva will not be the next President of Brazil, and Dilma may well be re-elected.
Four crucial things happened in the run-up to the first round of elections after Marina appeared: (1) she was tellingly (and accurately) portrayed as inexperienced in government by both Dilma and Aécio; (2) her performances in the televised debates were abysmal; (3) she announced an economic plan which seemed a carbon copy of Aécio’s; and (4) she caved on the question of alliances with other parties.
Marina’s surge in popularity can be partially attributed to voters who felt disenfranchised (“no party represents me”) and who protested in mid-2013. But as September progressed, Marina failed to offer voters any real plans for change – she even admitted her government would use experienced politicians from her rivals’ parties – PSDB and PT.
The Curmudgeon suspects that many potential Marina voters, whose hearts wanted real change, let their minds convince them she had become just another traditional politician. Therefore, they either stayed home, or voted for no presidential candidate, or purposely spoiled their ballot so it couldn’t be counted. Out of 142 million registered voters, only 104 million, or 73 percent, cast valid votes for the Presidency.
“It’s the economy, stupid” has been shown to have different meanings for different voters. The facts that Brazil formally entered a recession and that inflation was hovering at the tolerable limit, had no discernible effect on Dilma’s approval rating. This improved during September, because of her campaign’s emphasis on the popular (if not populist) measures that 12 years of Lula and Dilma had implanted.
These programs include public works projects, which reduce unemployment. They include the “bolsa família” where the poorest receive a monthly allowance. They include real rises in the minimum salary. These are what poor voters think about when “the economy” is mentioned, and poor voters still far outnumber the non-poor.
Marina’s environmental emphasis was portrayed by Dilma as meaning fewer public works, thus meaning fewer jobs. She and Aécio were accused of wanting to abolish the “bolsa família”. Marina’s and Aécio’s claims that lower fuel and electricity bills would eventually worsen the economy because they were artificial, fell on deaf ears among voters who like stable prices.
Marina was often characterized as the darling of the “evangelical” voters; however, both her rivals successfully undercut her support among those voters. Neither favored legalizing abortion; neither favored criminalizing homophobia. Marina had to backtrack on several prior “liberal” positions and was seen as pandering to conservative evangelical voters.
The televised debates gave her a chance to show she had the requisite experience and to appear “presidential”. She did neither—she waffled on several issues, and her voice sounded querulous and ultimately unconvincing. Aécio did much better than her, so it is arguable that many voters wanting change, upon arriving at the polling station, decided that they’d rather go with someone with practical experience.
The Curmudgeon will leave for next week’s column, same time, same station, his thoughts on the second round of elections, including whether or not Marina, once “done and dusted”, has been “undone and dustbinned”.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON, fetched up on Carioca shores some 37 years ago and still loves them; his favorite spectator sport is politics, viewed from a WASP-like perspective.