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Brazil’s election: why Dilma and Aécio both lost at home
What went wrong? With the close of the first round of voting in Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, the two candidates going into the second round, incumbent president Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s party (PT) and Aécio Neves of the more market-friendly PSDB must now explain their poor performances in their home territories. Dilma Rousseff, who started her political life in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, saw Neves win there with 39.5 per cent of the vote to her 37.6 per cent. Meanwhile Neves, who was governor of the mining state of Minas Gerais from 2003 to 2010, lost there to Dilma, by 43.8 per cent to 39.8 per cent of the vote.
In Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, both the cradle of the PT and a PSDB political stronghold, Dilma was also beaten by Neves. He got 44.2 per cent of the vote to her 25.8 per cent. What worries the PT more is Dilma’s defeat in parts of São Paulo state that are known for historically being PT strongholds, such as São Bernardo, where the party was born and where former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva still lives.
According to Folha de S.Paulo, the PT blames the mensalão, a vote-buying scandal in Congress during Lula’s first term in 2003-2006, for contributing to its poor performance in São Paulo. Well-known local politicians who were jailed following the scandal were barred from running this year.
Another suspicion is that the PT’s strategy of ripping into third-placed candidate Marina Silva of the PSB with a barrage of negative ads turned people against Dilma in the city. The expectation was that the attacks would transfer votes from Marina to Dilma but that did not happen in São Paulo.
“The PT had a big loss in São Paulo for several reasons. It is the state that has less dependency on the social programmes [of the PT] and it is the state that feels more the impact of a bad economy,” said Carlos Melo, a professor at Insper business school in São Paulo.
For Neves, things have not been all good either. In Minas Gerais, after 12 years of PSDB rule, the PT’s candidate Fernando Pimentel won the governorship in the first round against PSBD candidate Pimenta da Veiga.
As a former governor who ended his second term with a 92 per cent popularity rating, Neves had hoped his record in the state would be his “business card” during the campaign. The PSDB might now have to get him a new one.
During the presidential campaign, Neves proudly touted over and over again the so-called “management shock” he introduced in Minas, a set of measures to reduce government spending and increase efficiency.
He has not commented on his defeat in Minas. Perhaps he also owes that partly to past scandals. These include the alleged involvement of politicians close to him in the mensalão mineiro, an embezzlement scheme related to the state’s gubernatorial election in 1998 that came to a head recently, and the building of an airstrip with public money on Neves’s uncle’s property.
Melo at Insper said Aécio’s failure in Minas could also be a reflection of the poor performance of his successor Pimenta da Veiga in government. “Everything negative about Aécio has a bigger impact in Minas than in the rest of the country,” he said.
Rousseff and Neves are very different candidates but their performance last Sunday suggests something in common. The discontent that boiled over in mass demonstrations in Brazil last year against poor public services, corruption and over-expenditure on the 2014 Fifa World Cup is not dead. Rousseff and Neves might have failed in their supposed strongholds because people want change. Rejection of both candidates could be a sign of frustration with the two parties that have dominated Brazil’s presidential elections for the past two decades.