Brazilian Presidential Candidates Shoot for the Stars

by Javiera Alarcon and Ligia Alonso

Hours away from the presidential election, set to take place on October 5, what lies ahead for Brazil remains an issue of intense debate. A sluggish economy and insufficient economic reforms have invited greater uncertainty in the run-up to the election. Indeed, by most accounts, the only assumed outcome is that there will be a second round of voting.

Brazil recently experienced an unexpected shift in the political climate when Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) presidential candidate Eduardo Campos tragically died in a plane crash on August 13. In the fallout of the crash, Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) slipped in the polls after Marina Silva assumed Campos’ role as PSB presidential candidate. Now, Silva – representing a party that has not held the reign of power within the past decade – finds herself in a highly contested presidential race against the incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party (PT).

Prior to her run for Vice President, then President of Brazil, Silva was an environment minister during President Lula da Silva’s administration. Before that, she ran in 2010 under the lesser-known Green Party; in this presidential cycle, she initially attempted to register the Rede Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network) political movement, but in October 2013 the Electoral Court determined that she did not meet the required number of signatures for party approval.

But in a country with a strong tradition of challenging the political order, it’s not difficult to understand how Silva is less a political outsider than a reflection of a transforming population.

A tech savvy public that effortlessly connects social media with political activism has already indicated a strong showing for Marina Silva. Each candidate has dominated different social media platforms, as visualized in the infographic here. A strong social media following is a significant asset in a country that limits spending on airtime ads.

According to Americas Society/Council of the Americas, “The Electoral Monitor, a website that tracks presidential candidates’ social media mentions, shows Silva as the frontrunner this month, with over 335,000 mentions compared to around 296,000 for Rousseff and 207,000 for Neves.” These figures speak to the fact that Rousseff’s term has been complicated by tense relationships between powerful stakeholders.

One can trace Rousseff’s current struggles back to her failure to engage with Brazil’s Congress, despite the fact that its early composition was in her favor: Rousseff inherited in 2011 the largest majority in Congress a Brazilian president has ever received, 311 seats of 513. This shouldn’t be understated. For a coalition presidentialism with over 35 political parties having a cohesive majority and a good dialogue with Congress is key for a presidency’s survival. Rousseff didn’t get that. Not only did the President stop dialoging with Congress but she also received less the private sector and even workers unions, knowingly supportive of the PT government. Key sectors of society were shut out of her government.

Those, compounded by the June 2013 protests – a new landmark in Brazilian history – against poor public service provision and growing middle class demands for an efficient public transportation system, greater accountability, and smart infrastructure development contributed to mounting frustrations in the Brazilian public.

A new issue that has also been very hot this year is the relationship between the private sector and government, mostly due to corruption allegations. Candidates have been widely using themes like the autonomy of the Central Bank to discuss who is financing whose campaign.

As Silva’s campaign has been signaling, there’s a desire for transparency and high intolerance for corruption, and she believes that she has the moral leadership to guide the country. By rising up to her current candidacy, Silva has certainly proven herself up to the challenge. Brazil’s presidential race has captivated a global audience that will be eagerly reacting to the election turnout and results.

Javiera Alarcon is Managing Director with Global Operations, follow her on Twitter: @Javiera_Alarcon. Ligia Alonso is the YPFP Ambassador for Brazil, she is based in Sao Paulo and can be reached at ypfpbrasil@gmail.com if you’re interested in learning more about “YPFP Brazil.”