LATIN AMERICA

Marina Silva emerges unscathed from Brazil’s first presidential debate

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff and PSDB contender Aécio Neves focused on attacking each other

Marina Silva, Aécio Neves, the debate host and Dilma Rousseff on the set.
Marina Silva, Aécio Neves, the debate host and Dilma Rousseff on the set.Sebastião Moreira / EFE

On the same day that a survey showed Marina Silva could win Brazil’s presidential elections in a hypothetical runoff, the campaign’s first televised debate pitted the candidates against each other in front of millions of viewers.

Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) contender following the untimely death of Eduardo Campos, attacked President Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party (PT), saying that the image of Brazil portrayed by the government “is almost like a movie – it is not the Brazil that really exists out there.”

The third rival, Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), followed the same line of thinking.

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“We now have an extraordinary opportunity to pit the real world against the imaginary world. Today, Brazilians dream of living inside one of the PT’s propaganda pitches,” he said.

Rousseff, meanwhile, decided not to attack Silva and instead focused on Neves, her main rival until Campos’s death in a plane crash. The president defended her track record after Neves criticized her economic policies and her handling of state oil company Petrobras.

The incumbent also tried to link Neves to his party colleague, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, stating that in eight years the PSDB bankrupted the country three times.

“Your party slashed salaries and approved price hikes,” she said.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, only came up in connection with his management of Petrobras, despite having been a constant presence in Rousseff’s campaign run.

All three candidates defend the interests of big finance. They do not listen to the people” Luciana Genro, of the Socialism and Freedom Party

One of the few direct criticisms aimed at Marina Silva came from Neves, who said he saw no coherence in her talk of “a new form of politics” that is supposed to bring the current two-party system to an end. He also questioned the fact that the environmentalist wants to enter into an alliance with José Serra of the PSDB. Silva retorted that her goal is to end “the old polarization [between PT and PSDB], which has held the country back for 20 years,” and to govern hand in hand with good politicians, no matter which party they belong to.

During the debate, Neves also defended eliminating the possibility of re-election and keeping terms down to five years for any elected official.

But the most controversial topics were raised by the minority candidates. Eduardo Jorge, of the Green Party, defended drug legalization and decriminalizing abortion. Luciana Genro, of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), insisted that Brazil is a homophobic country. The evangelical pastor Everaldo, of the Social Christian Party, supported reducing the age of criminal responsibility.

Toward the end of the debate, Genro said all three main candidates answer to the same boss: “They essentially all defend the interests of big finance,” she argued. “With that agenda, they are not going to listen to the voice of the people.”

At least three other debates will be held among the main presidential contenders until the first round of voting takes place on October 5.