President Rousseff Loses Support as Rivals Grow

Economic downturn, problems at Petrobras and a movement in support of her predecessor are affecting Rousseff's re-election effort.

By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Once considered a landslide favorite for reelection this year, President Dilma Rousseff is facing an increasingly harder battle. A new poll from Datafolha showed last Friday, May 9th that Rousseff has lost support among the Brazilian electorate while her rivals’ popularity rise ahead of the October elections.`

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Rousseff’s support is falling among the electorate, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

While Rousseff lost a seemingly small number, slipping one percentage point to 37 percent, her opponents made progress, especially the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate, Aécio Neves, who rose by four percent to twenty percent of vote intention.

The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate, Eduardo Campos, gained a modest one percent of support compared to the last poll, which was released in April. Campos also announced former senator and 2010 presidential candidate Marina Silva as his running mate last October.

The numbers show that Rousseff is very likely to be forced to face off against her opponents in a second-round vote in October, as she did in 2010. Candidates who do not receive a majority of votes must enter a runoff election, which usually takes place several weeks after the first election.

The current president, however, would still be expected to win in a hypothetical runoff against Neves. Datafolha reported that the current president would receive 47 percent of votes, eleven more percentage points than Neves.

Rousseff’s latest drop in the polls, as well as her opponents’ steady gains, come amid an economic downturn and a brewing scandal over irregular contracts and corruption at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, once headed by the current president.

A Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) into the allegations is set to begin today (Wednesday) in Brazil’s Senate. Rousseff has come under fire for her role in the 2006 acquisition of an oil refinery in Texas when she was part of Petrobras’ Board of Trustees. The PSDB has accused Rousseff of costing taxpayers more than US$1 billion by authorizing the purchase.

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Rumors that President Rousseff’s predecessor will return to power have been growing in recent weeks, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

Some analysts believe Rousseff, who built her reputation as a technocrat with experience in the energy sector, could lose even more support as Congress examines her role in the alleged irregularities when she headed the country’s largest company.

Octavio Amorim Neto, Political Science professor at Rio de Janeiro’s Fundação Gétulio Vargas told The Rio Times in April that the CPI would have a “devastating effect” on her reelection bid. The embattled Rousseff is also facing a challenge from factions in the Workers’ Party and other political groups who want former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to return to power.

A “Volta, Lula” (Come back, Lula) movement has strengthened in the last few weeks after an end of April post on gossip and entertainment site Glamurama claimed that Lula himself had confessed to his closest friends that he would be the PT’s candidate.

“[Lula] has already confirmed to his closest friends this weekend that he intends on returning to power. In the PT, the decision is regarded positively, because the party does not agree with Dilma Rousseff’s positions,” the post read. The report, which was removed from the site soon after it was published, triggered a media storm over Lula’s political ambitions and caused great discomfort among members of the PT.

Other media outlets, such as Veja, are now reporting that Lula would only play an active role in Rousseff’s campaign and that he has no interest in returning to power as the PT’s presidential candidate. The PT did its part to silence the Lula chatter by announcing Rousseff as its official presidential pre-candidate three days later. Her candidacy is expected to be made official at the party’s convention in June.

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