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Headed for a Runoff in Brazil

Jaime Daremblum

Sunday’s presidential election results from Brazil came as a surprise. Pre-election polling had indicated that center-left Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff, the hand-picked successor of incumbent Brazilian president Lula da Silva, would win an outright majority in the first round of voting. This made sense: After all, Lula is tremendously popular (with approval ratings in the 80 percent range); millions of Brazilians have escaped from poverty on his watch; and the country’s booming economy will grow by over 7 percent this year.

In the end, however, Rousseff came up short, winning only 47 percent of the vote. She will now face the second-place finisher, center-right candidate José Serra of the Social Democracy Party, who garnered about 33 percent of the vote, in a runoff election on October 31.

So why were the pollsters wrong? There are a number of possible explanations. Just a few weeks before the election, news broke of a corruption scandal involving former Rousseff aide Erenice Guerra, who was forced to resign from her position as chief of staff in the Lula government (the position that Rousseff had held before her). The scandal may have turned some voters against Rousseff. In addition, many Brazilians may have been concerned about her background in radical left-wing politics: She was a Marxist guerrilla leader during Brazil’s dictatorial era.

Another significant factor was Green Party candidate Maria Silva, who experienced a surge late in the campaign and wound up capturing over 19 percent of the vote. According to the BBC, “many of those who abandoned Ms. Rousseff appear to have been evangelical Christians who were concerned over her stance on abortion and so moved their votes to Ms. Silva, herself an evangelical Christian.“ 

Finally, the Lula factor proved less powerful than many had anticipated. Brazil’s globetrotting president tried to play kingmaker, but even his enormous popularity was not quite enough to pull Rousseff across the finish line. Odds are that she will win the runoff election. But nothing is guaranteed.

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