On the eve of Sunday’s Brazilian general election, I write in The National Interest on Friday that Marina Silva, the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), has become in many ways the most conservative candidate in the three-way presidential race.
Though her poll numbers have dipped since she took a narrow lead in August and early September, she’s still expected to advance to an October 26 runoff against the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff. The latest Datafolha poll shows Rousseff with 40%, Silva with 25% and center-right challenger Aécio Neves with 20%. That’s a far different story than an August 28-29 survey that showed Rousseff and Silva tied at 34% each, with just 15% for Neves. That’s to be expected, perhaps, given that the sympathy for her party’s former candidate, Eduardo Campos, has subsided. Campos was killed in an airplane crash in early August.
Rousseff also leads in the runoff by a 49% to 41% margin. But Silva’s conservatism could help narrow that gap, especially with equalized financing for television advertising in the three weeks between the first round and the runoff. If Neves and his party, the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party) endorse Silva in the runoff, expect the polls to tighten again.
A member of Brazil’s growing evangelical community, Silva is anti-abortion and recently flip-flopped on same-sex marriage. But for a former environmental activist and the 2010 candidate of the Partido Verde (Green Party, PV) was, she has also become surprisingly conservative on economic policy, which has heartened Brazil’s business and investor class:
Far from running to Rousseff’s left on economic policy, Silva and her top advisors, including former senator Maurício Rands, have emphasized a platform that borrows heavily from the kind of neoliberal approach that you might expect from Neves, who comes from the same party as former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Cardoso’s privatization efforts won the scorn of many Brazilians, even as his administration brought macroeconomic stability to Brazil after years of inflation. Silva and her campaign have pledged not to raise taxes and not to deploy foreign reserves by artificially inflating the real’s value in currency markets. She also indicates that she will take a more disciplined measure on budget spending.
Even more astounding is the way in which Silva, who resigned as Lula da Silva’s environmental minister in 2008 because of his government’s willingness to consider development initiatives in the Amazon, has demonstrated her pragmatism on energy policy. Today, she’s embraced both large-scale hydroelectricity projects and offshore oil development, though she was hostile to both as a government minister.
None of the candidates, including Silva, are likely to roll back the social welfare programs that have become established after 12 years of the Lula da Silva and Rousseff administrations. But Silva, in particular, could make a strong case that her government would be as much a part of Lula’s legacy as Rousseff’s reelection:
Moreover, Silva, who started off as a member of the Workers’ Party, is arguably as much the heir of Lula da Silva’s legacy as Rousseff. By introducing a new perspective to Brazil’s government, a Silva presidency might reform and refresh the principles that have made Lula da Silva, even today, such a beloved figure within Brazil and Latin America, even as his party finds itself struggling to fend offcorruption allegations, charges of economic mismanagement and accusations, going back to widespread protests last summer, that Rousseff has placed vanity projects, like hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, over more fundamental issues like the cost of public transportation, health care and education….
But with days to go until the first round, Brazilians might find that Silva represents the most conservative choice of all—she offers the corrective policies that voters might expect from Neves or a change in administration, while also embodying a certain amount of continuity with the lulista left. That’s all in addition to the symbolic appeal of Silva’s election as representative of Brazil’s promise of greater racial and socioeconomic equality.