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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Reelected in Bitterly Close Race

Rousseff won 51.64 percent of the vote, to 48.36 percent for business-friendly centrist Aecio Neves in the decisive second round of the poll.
Photo by Eraldo Peres/AP

After a dramatically close race, voters reelected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff on Sunday, extending her mandate for a further four years, and granting a fourth term to her Workers' Party (PT).

Rousseff won 51.64 percent of the vote, to 48.36 percent for business-friendly centrist Aecio Neves in the decisive second round of the poll.

Since October 5, when Neves, of the Brazilian Socialist Democrat Party (PSDB) eliminated environmentalist and erstwhile favorite Marina Silva in the first round of voting, he and Rousseff have, for most of the time, been technically tied in the polls. At one point, early on, Neves had even seemed poised to edge past Rousseff, of the Workers' Party (PT). But as the campaign became increasingly acrimonious, Neves failed to keep up his momentum.


The race has been extraordinarily dramatic: Silva, a former illiterate rubber-tapper, entered the race in August after former-PSB candidate Eduardo Campos was killed in a plane crash. Silva quickly surged to the front of the polls, but attack ads and campaign missteps saw her drop into third place just before the first round.

Marina Silva, Former Illiterate Rubber Tapper, Reshapes Brazil's Presidential Race. Read more here.

Since then, class tensions have run high, as the race has pitted Rousseff, a left-wing former guerrilla who campaigned on her record of social programs bringing millions out of poverty, against centrist Neves, presenting himself an investor's dream who, as governor of Minas Gerais, eliminated the state deficit.

"Aecio would just be for the rich, for the elite, he wouldn't care about the poor," said Maria da Conçeição Euzebio Souza, 52, a maid. "For us it's Dilma we need. She is much more caring and has been a good president for the poor."

Election data shows that Rousseff won handily in the north and northeast while the richer cities of Brazil's south and southeast tended to vote for Neves.

Despite the inarguable success of the anti-poverty campaigns, some voters say that the PT has relied too much on this record in seeking reelection, and has not sufficiently addressed other problems such as a stagnant economy and poor health services.

"I voted for Aecio because in the debates he seemed more conscientious, more honest, more capable and more competent," Antonio Marcos Ferreira Gomes, 61, who runs a newspaper and convenience stand in Brasília, told VICE News.


"[Dilma] has basically just continued the works of Lula but done little more — it's all Bolsa Familia this, Bolsa Famila that."

In a victory speech on Sunday night, Rousseff declared that political reform would be her "first priority" for a second term. This was one of the demands of the June 2013 protest movement, and Rousseff had called for a referendum on the issue last year, but faced severe opposition from Congress.

Rousseff also said that she did not believe that the election campaign had "divided," the country. Many voters have been taken aback by the intensity and tone of attacks between Rousseff and Neves, who has compared Rousseff's spin doctor to Nazi propagandist Goebbels, while popular former-president Lula compared Neves and his PSDB party to Nazis in their "persecution" of poor people in the northeast.

But for many, the barrage of barbs exchanged hid a more fundamental problem: that after 12 years of the PT, and eight years of PSDB government before that, neither of candidates inspired much excitement for a lot of voters.

"None of the candidates, none of their positions convinced me, and to vote for one just to reject the other is not my strategy," said Leidyane Alves, 22, a student of public policy management in Brasília. "For me, there was no good option."

While some voters on the left are dissatisfied with Rousseff, they could not bring themselves to vote for Neves, Sonia Fleury, political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told VICE News.


"In a race this close you don't have a leadership that has a real hegemony," said Fleury. "I would say that most of the votes for either candidate were a veto vote — votes for Aecio were mostly votes against four more years of the PT, and vice versa."

Despite Campos' tragic death and the bile that has marked much of the later race, Brazilians have found some moments to amuse, or at least baffle. Early on in the race, American actor Mark Ruffalo declared his support for Silva based on her green credentials, but recanted quickly when he learned she had flip-flopped on the issue of gay marriage. Later on, during the second round, Lindsay Lohan tweeted her approval of Neves in stilted English, writing "I support @AecioNeves, for presidential candidature. His platform brings positive changes in Brasil."

As many Brazilians pointed out, an association with party-girl Lohan was perhaps not what Neves, dogged by rumors of cocaine use, needed.

Shortly before the final debate, one Brazilian going by the handle Procrastino tweeted, "Anxious for the moment when Dilma discreetly touches her nose and asks Aecio about Lindsay Lohan's support."

Rousseff's supporters have sought to characterize Neves as an elite, out-of-touch playboy, emphasizing the parallel youths of the two candidates: While Rousseff fought during the 1960s and 1970s against Brazil's military dictatorship, being tortured and imprisoned for her beliefs, Neves lived in a smart Rio de Janeiro neighborhood and went surfing, they pointed out.


"Where was the candidate [Aécio], when [Dilma], age 20, was risking her life to fight for freedom in this country?" said Lula on the campaign trail.

Ultimately, this tactic seems to have been successful. Rousseff's solid base of support among the new middle class, millions of whom were lifted from abject poverty by cash transfer social programs during her administration and that of former-president Lula, provided her with enough votes to narrowly edge past Neves.

"Lots of good changes have been made under Dilma," said Elisia Cardozo Barbosa, 46, housewife. "My husband was unemployed until the PT came to govern… Food is cheaper now. We eat just like the rich eat."

The challenge now, said Fleury, would be for Rousseff, with reduced support compared to 2010, to win back enough political capital in Congress to govern effectively — and perhaps even to be more progressive with no bid for reelection in sight.

"She will have to rethink way to deal with social movements and people from the left that supported her even though didn't consider her government was the best it could be," said Fleury. "And on the other side she must start building bridges to the opposition, inviting them in."

"It won't be easy," she added.

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