Opinions - 23.10.2014 - 00:00 

Brazil – A divided society

On 26 October 2014 Brazilians will elect their next president. Vanessa Boanada Fuchs, Project Manager at the Centro Latinoamericano-Suizo de la Universidad de San Gallen, comments on the political and the post-political in the Brazilian presidential elections.


23 October 2014. During the first round of elections on 5 October 2014, the current president Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party) received 41.59 per cent (43.3 million) of the votes, while Aécio Neves (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) and Marina Silva (Brazilian Socialist Party) received 33.55 per cent (34.9 million) and 21.32 per cent (22.2 million) respectively. Albeit voting is an obligatory civic duty of all citizens aged above 18 years old, the abstention/blank votes reached 38.8 million votes which is more than the number of votes garnered by the second candidate.

Now, the runoff vote is between Rousseff and Neves. Polls change overnight and point slightly to the victory of one or the other candidate. Swinging the votes from Marina could decide the results of this year’s elections; however, the picture revealed is much more complex.

A way for those who do not like politics

Silva, who entered the election race replacing the late candidate Eduardo Campos, advertised a third way for those who do not feel represented by either right or left, and who do not like politics. Silva’s campaign embodied a post-political claim: left and right are farinha do mesmo saco ("flour of the same sack"); once in power and for the sake of governability they succumb to alliances with and concessions to other powerful parties to obtain majority in the national congress and trade-off strategies juggling with the control of ministries as bargaining chip.

Her post-political claim appealed to the current crisis of political representation and, indeed, attracted to her campaign otherwise unlikely allies (environmentalists, private banks, evangelist representatives). For the runoff vote, Silva has declared her support to Neves in exchange for commitments in areas such as environmental sustainability, agrarian reform, full-time schools, and the end of re-elections for Executive positions. Regardless of Silva’s declaration of support, her voters and her own party are divided.

Two groups of particular interest

Brazilian society is also divided. Given the choice between Rousseff and Neves, Brazilians are reviving political debates about the role of the state in the economy and in the welfare of people; politics are, after all, not dead – something that the debate’s polarization has made clear. However, two groups remain unclear as to their site of belonging and are of particular interest in the swinging pendulum of this year’s elections: the new middle class and the environmentalists.

The Brazilian "virtuous circle of growth"

During the 12 years of Lula/Rousseff administration, millions of people ascended to the middle class. The Program of Acceleration of Growth (PAC) stimulated a "virtuous circle of growth" through the injection of public investment into large infrastructure works, job creation, wealth distribution, and stimulation of internal consumption. Externally, the program of economic growth with redistribution benefited initially from the higher demand of primary goods in the international market, especially minerals. This model has survived the international economic crisis since 2008 ensuring employability and sustaining internal levels of consumption, albeit with much lower rates of growth since 2011.

The new middle class

The individuals ascribed to the new middle class do not form a unified mass leaving no room to oversimplification. This demographic follows no distinctive voting tendency, which is rather influenced by other factors such as profession and prior history of political engagement. Part identifies with an interventionist government that has maintained social programs, eradicated hunger, and expanded the network of public universities; another part identifies with claims of less state intervention, including less taxation on revenues, on production and import. The winning candidate will have to deal with this increasingly demanding and diversified constituency that has as common denominator the claim for more, better, and reliable public services.

Troubled waters of conflicts

On the other hand, the fast expansion of the Brazilian "virtuous circle of growth" has generated criticism from environmentalists concerning the re-primarization of the Brazilian economy, the appropriation of natural resources in areas of political and environmental sensibility, and the disregard for environmental laws.

Grassroots movements are tempted to veto Rousseff’s environmental performance, but they have been historically distant to the neoliberal agenda represented by Neves regardless of his campaign commitments to Silva. Accordingly, most tend to abstain or blank vote. Any winning candidate will have to travel the troubled waters of conflicts between agribusiness, landless peasants, indigenous peoples, and conservationists. The task will not be easy; both candidates have received campaign contributions from the agribusiness sector while promising to make amends concerning environmental governance.

The result of this year’s elections may be a close call; a call that should be read as symptomatic of the current crisis of representation. The true challenge will be to govern a country whose current state of fragmentation is also reflected in the national congress without resorting to the same old strategies that would revive the post-political claim.

Photo: Kay Fochtmann /

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