Millions of hearts simultaneously broke on the afternoon of July 8, 2014. Blank stares from about 58,000 thousand spectators were fixed upon the 22 individuals on the pitch. The Amarelinha, Brazil’s national football team, was humiliated at home soil by the German team at the 2014 FIFA World semifinals. Dubbed the Mineirazo, a term that evokes the 1950’s Maracanazo when Brazil unexpectedly lost the world cup final to Uruguay, the July 8th game marked a need for change once again in Brazilian football. The pentacampeão had lost their style of play, spectators even argued that this Brazil team did not play like Brazilians.
Similarly, the latest Brazilian round of elections is a wakeup call signalling a need for change in the way Brazilian politics is done.
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female head of state, barely clenched re-election in a run-off vote held on the 26 of October. In an election campaign worthy of at least an Emmy award (if not for best drama/soap opera, at the very least for best comedy), the incumbent took 51.6% of the vote, the narrowest victory in modern Brazilian democracy. The electoral campaign was filled with lies, false accusations, bitter bickering and all the political fear mongering we see in other well established democracies.
Nevertheless, the most notable development in the campaign trail was the tragic death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and members of his team during a plane crash at the start of formal campaigning season. This led to the meteoric rise and subsequent crash of Marina Silva, a well-regarded environmentalist and Campos’ running mate, during the first round of elections.
The second round of elections saw a surprisingly strong challenge posed by candidate Aécio Neves. The last polls before the second round of election placed Neves statistically tied or ahead of Rousseff. The incumbent prevailed, mostly thanks to the Partido dos Trabalhadores’ (PT) strong popularity among low and middle income voters in the North and North East of the country. The PT’s voter base still remembers beneficial social programs like Bolsa Familía and Fome Zero implemented under the leadership of spiritual-like beacon, former president, Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva.
Rousseff has a tough second term ahead of her, but so would have had Neves.
The past four years have been brutal for the South American giant. In 2010 Brazil was lauded as the darling of the BRICs, a stable democracy with healthy economic growth (probably the only economically stable democracy growing at the time), the country had just earned the “privilege” of hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics two years later in Rio de Janeiro.
Today the opposite is the case, Brazil’s sluggish economy, low commodity prices, raising inflation and corruption scandals weight heavy on Brazilian shoulders. Social unrest has engulfed the nation as well. 2013 saw Brazil’s urban centres besieged by the biggest protests seen in a generation. Grievances were directed at the PT’s perceived corruption and poor policy planning. Citizen woes were made even more evident by the clear mishandling of funds and the sometimes blatant incompetence seen during World Cup preparations (don’t hate on football dear reader, remember Eduardo Galeano’s quote: “football is not guilty of the sins committed on its name”). The protests died down and unrest didn’t interfere with the world cup, it was surprising that all that pent up anger didn’t explode after the 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Germans.
Ask the average Brazilian on any street, and they’ll probably claim that there is little hope for the future of Brazil. People are weary of Rousseff’s second term, tired of government incompetence and cynical about change.
It’s not all that bad for Rousseff, the ruling government coalition (The Coligação Com a Força do Povo) remained relatively unscratched after October 5th National Congress elections. With about two thirds control over both chambers of congress, Rousseff shouldn’t have her hands too bounded by the legislative body. However, Brazilian politics are a myriad of complex coalitions and nepotistic relationships between different blocs and interest groups, not to mention struggles between federal and provincial government.
It is essential that Rousseff balances some of these interests. Even the mythical Lula, who ended his second tenure with an 80% approval rating, had to acquiesce to powerful business associations. Rousseff doesn’t have the charisma or popular appeal necessary to push for much needed legislation without burning through her and her party’s political capital.
Despite the challenges, Brazil still boasts excellent relations with its neighbours (a claim no other BRICs country can make), it is endowed with a wealth of natural resources, a growing, smart population, reduced overall levels of poverty and a strong agricultural sector. Similarly, despite its humiliating exit from the world cup, the Brazilian national team still boasts the likes of Neymar, Oscar, Filipe Luís and others. Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s national team head coach during the world cup, won’t got a second chance.
Dilma Rousseff has one. The pieces are still there, but it will take masterful stewardship to bring them together. Will Rouseff measure up to the challenge in her second term?
Christian Medina Ramirez is a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ottawa. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and did his undergraduate degree in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Waterloo, Canada.
Featured Photo from Blog do Planalto.