BRAZIL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Ecologist Marina Silva in line to become Rousseff’s main rival

The former Green Party candidate is seen as the natural choice for the Socialists after Campos’ death

Campaign poster featuring Marina Silva and Eduardo Campos.
Campaign poster featuring Marina Silva and Eduardo Campos.RICARDO MORAES / REUTERS

Curious people crowded around Eduardo Campos’ family tomb in a cemetery in Recife, the capital city of Pernambuco state. They wanted to see the illustrious son. “I wanted to know where they were going to bury the best Pernambuco governor since Miguel Arraes,” one local said. Arraes, Campos’ grandfather, served as governor for three terms and Campos served two. The coastal city, where his widow Renata and his five children live, greeted the morning with one single topic of conversation: state and presidential elections in October.

Campos’ body is still at the legal medical institute of São Paulo state where he was taken after the small aircraft in which he was traveling crashed near Santos on Wednesday. He and six other people died in the accident. Apparently, the body will not be buried until next week. While Recife locals are waiting to bid him farewell, the political spotlight has shifted to Marina Silva, Campos’ running mate.

As Silva stood next to Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) general secretary Carlos Siqueira, she spoke of Campos’ death. Dark circles under her eyes revealed her sadness. She looked uncomfortable with the unavoidable question. “We spent 10 intense months together,” she said in a short speech. “Together we began to thread the hope of building a better and more just world. Eduardo defended those ideas until the last second of his life.”

Silva lost her campaign partner but PSB lost more. Eduardo Campos was the new voice and the party’s great hope for national exposure. PSB had been gaining momentum - more votes, more deputies, more governors and mayors. Now, the party has 10 days to choose a new presidential candidate. Two factors will affect this decision: the emotion Campos’ death has stirred up and Silva’s political clout. Silva is considered the most natural candidate for PSB. In 2010, she received more than 20 million votes and a clever social media campaign boosted her profile. And, she surprised some when she forced President Dilma Rousseff into a run-off.

The former Green Party candidate has received the backing of an influential supporter, the lawyer Antonio Campos, brother of the late Eduardo. Antonio Campos told the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo that the founder of the Sustainable Network should become the PSB presidential candidate. “My brother indicated what he wanted by asking Marina to be his vice-president.” So, there would be little room left to make another choice.

Silva has a great personality and enormous political influence, more than Campos had. She could become Brazil’s next president or at least receive as many votes as she did four years ago. In April, before the parties had officially chosen their nominees for the race, a Datafolha survey showed that 27 percent of prospective voters would choose Silva before Aécio Neves (16 percent). President Dilma Rousseff kept the lead with 39 percent.

Marina Silva was born in Breu Velho (Acre state, northern Brazil). She was illiterate until the age of 16. She overcame poverty and built a political career that turned her into an alternative to the two-party system led by Rousseff’s Workers Party (PT) and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB).

That Silva might become president of Brazil worries many citizens. She is a member of the Evangelical Church, a religion that is spreading throughout Brazil and in other countries. She holds very conservative views on areas such as same-sex marriage and abortion. But, experts say these issues would not affect her leadership. “She is an Evangelist but she is not necessarily a religious politician,” says Claudio Couto from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

Just a few days before the official start of the campaign, the political world finds itself in limbo, in mourning and shaken up. All parties are preparing to face the unexpected.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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