The Economist Print Edition, 10/16/2014
In 2010, when Brazilians elected Dilma Rousseff as president, their country seemed at last to be living up to its huge potential. The economy expanded by 7.5% that year, setting the seal on eight years of faster growth and a steep fall in poverty under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ms Rousseff’s political mentor and the leader of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT). But four years later that promise has disappeared. Under Ms Rousseff the economy has stalled and social progress has slowed. Sanctions-hit Russia aside, Brazil is by far the weakest performer in the BRIC club of big emerging economies. In June 2013 over a million Brazilians took to the streets to protest against poor public services and political corruption.
Ever since the protests the polls have shown that two-thirds of respondents want the next president to be different. So one might have expected them to turf out Ms Rousseff in the first round of the country’s presidential election on October 5th. In the event she secured 41.6% of the vote and remains the narrow favourite to win the run-off ballot on October 26th. That is mainly because most Brazilians have not yet felt the economic chill in their daily lives—though they soon will. And it is partly because her opponent, Aécio Neves of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), who won 33.6%, has struggled to persuade poorer Brazilians that the reforms he espouses—which the country urgently needs—will benefit rather than harm them. If Brazil is to avoid another four years of drift, it is vital that he succeeds in doing so.
Mr Neves’s task has been made harder by a campaign scarred by tragedy and upended by fate, as dramatic as a Brazilian telenovela. Two months ago the third-placed candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on his way to a rally. His former running-mate and replacement, Marina Silva, surged into the lead in the polls. An environmentalist, Ms Silva is the darling of the protesters, the symbol of a “new politics”. But attractive though her lack of a political machine might have seemed, it was a liability. Faced with sometimes underhand attacks from Ms Rousseff, Ms Silva wobbled. It did not help that she is an evangelical Protestant in what is still a largely Catholic country. In the end her 21% share of the vote was scarcely bigger than she managed in 2010. Rather than a “new politics”, the run-off will repeat the battle between the PT and the PSDB that has defined all Brazil’s presidential elections since 1994.