President Dilma Rousseff will face challenger Aecio Neves, leader of Brazil’s center-right opposition, in a presidential election runoff three weeks after Brazilians voted for the country’s two traditional political parties Sunday.
Marina Silva, the environmentalist candidate who had surged to the head of the race after Socialist candidate Eduardo Campos died in an August plane crash, dropped to third place in the final days of the campaign after facing attacks from Neves, a Social Democrat, and Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party.
With 96% of votes officially counted, Rousseff had received 41% to Neves’ 34% and Silva’s 21%. Eight other candidates split the remainder.
“For me, Aecio Neves just had a better chance of beating Rousseff in the second round, so I voted for him,” said Viviane Grilli, a 30-year-old advertising professional in Sao Paulo, after voting Sunday. “The Workers’ Party has been in power for too long, and I’m tired of corruption.”
In congressional and gubernatorial elections, Brazilian voters also largely reaffirmed the existing power structure, handing wins to traditionally powerful parties, in a voting day that upended predictions that the country would take the discontent expressed in widespread protests last year to the ballot box.
“Marina Silva was the only person who came close to personifying the discontent that fueled the protests, but this is hardball,” said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, a political analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. “You need solid party structure across the nation. The Workers’ Party has that, and so do the Social Democrats. And a lot of people switched their votes to Neves when they realized he may have had a better chance of beating Rousseff.”
Rousseff’s Workers’ Party has been in power for 12 years, since her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva became the first left-of-center presidential candidate to be elected in Brazil’s post-dictatorship era.
The decade that followed his 2002 election was marked by an economic boom, the rise of millions out of poverty and Brazil’s emergence on the world stage. But in the last few years of Rousseff’s presidency, support for the government lagged as the boom ended, and mass protests last year gave voice to widespread discontent with public services such as healthcare, education and infrastructure.
Rousseff is the favorite to win in the second round, but could face a tough battle with Aecio Neves, the senator and former governor of Minas Gerais state, who is likely to rail against corruption and economic problems. Neves is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, who was elected president in 1985 but died before taking office.
The incumbent, a former left-wing guerrilla who is Brazil’s first female president, is likely to rely on her solid support among Brazil’s poor, especially those who have benefited from government social programs, and to remind voters how much better things are than they were 12 years ago.
Both Neves and Rousseff attacked Silva for changing her positions and parties too often, and for not being able to form the solid base needed to govern. Silva, an evangelical, famously withdrew her party’s support for gay marriage after a series of tweets from an influential pastor criticized her position, which led to her being seen as socially conservative or inconsistent.
“I was going to vote for Marina Silva, until she switched sides so often and made it clear she wouldn’t do anything for us homosexuals,” said Leando Jesus Costa, a 23-year-old telemarketer in Sao Paulo. “And how was she going to build that ‘new politics’ she was talking about?”
“Lula did so many things right, from increasing the minimum wage to helping the poor with [the welfare program] Bolsa Familia,” said Gilberto Santos da Silva, a 28-year-old cook in Sao Paulo. “And Dilma has continued on from him.”
Bevins is a special correspondent.