By Benjamin Parkin, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party (PT), began the World Cup with approval ratings below forty percent. This has fallen continually from sixty percent before last year’s Confederations Cup, which was rocked by protests over corruption and misuse of public money in preparation for the events.
A study by Ibope showed that approval ratings for Dilma had fallen to 34 percent. No Brazilian president has ever won an election with less than 35 percent support, and at the very least levels of popularity below forty percent suggest the elections would go to a second round with one of the PT’s main rivals, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, or PSDB, headed by Aécio Neves, or the Brazilian Socialist known as the PSB Party of Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva.
“In many ways the World Cup is the electoral campaign by proxy… The Rousseff government is being portrayed as lacking leadership and ability to plan efficiently,” explained Carlos Caicedo, Senior Principal Analyst for Latin America at IHS Security Risk to The Rio Times. “The staging of a successful World Cup would be critical to prove critics wrong. A World Cup fiasco is certain to cost votes to Rousseff and the PT.”
During the opening game, played in São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium last Thursday, the president was met with choruses of vulgar chants. Anger at Rousseff and the PT is widespread, with popular demonstrations taking place simultaneously across the country, with widespread protesting in São Paulo and over a thousand people on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
Recent surveys show that over sixty percent of Brazilians think the World Cup would be bad for Brazil, a dramatic fall since 2007 when Brazil won the bid, when as much as 79 percent of the population believed it would contribute positively to the country.
For many Brazilians, nothing short of a victory – Brazil’s sixth in World Cup history – would be enough to convince them that the controversy was worth it. The loss for Brazil “increases the risk that disgruntled fans, together with anti-World Cup protesters, get together to stage demonstrations… exacerbating the declining trend in popularity of the Rousseff government,” continued Caicedo.
In her televised speech on the eve of the opening game, President Rousseff defended the handling of the event and promised Brazilians that the World Cup would leave a lasting legacy for them. “The airports, the metros, the BRTs and the stadiums won’t return in the tourists’ luggage. They will stay here, benefiting all of us.”
In response to the charge that this money would be better spent on public services such as health or education, she highlighted that Brazil spent 212 times more on health and education (R$1.7 trillion) than the R$8 billion spent on stadiums, and defended her government’s legacy.
“Our country produced one of the most successful processes of wealth redistribution, employment rises and social inclusion,” she explained, with inequality diminishing significantly as 36 million Brazilians were taken out of poverty by policies such as Bolsa Família.
The PSDB and PSB have remained largely quiet on the issue of the World Cup. As Caicedo explained, “the opposition is waiting for the right moment to take the government to task for all the glaring inefficiencies and marked improvisation.”
However, following Rousseff’s televised speech, the PSDB declared their intention to enter a legal challenge for using the opening of the World Cup as electoral propaganda. “This is using public money to make a political campaign,” said Aécio Neves.