LATIN AMERICA

Brazilians re-elect Dilma Rousseff by smallest of margins

Workers’ Party leader will have to resolve deep division created by passionate campaign

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff waves after her win on Sunday.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff waves after her win on Sunday.EVARISTO SA / AFP

Brazilians on Sunday narrowly re-elected Dilma Rousseff to be their president for another four years.

The 66-year-old leader of the Workers’ Party, who was a guerrilla fighter in her youth and an efficient energy minister under former president Lula da Silva, obtained just three million votes more than her rival, Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB), in a country where 146 million citizens have the right to vote.

The outcome of the runoff was so close that results were not announced until practically every last ballot had been counted. The leftist leader obtained 51.64 percent of the vote against 48.36 percent for the liberal contender, with 100 percent of votes tallied.

This is the smallest difference in a Brazilian presidential race on record since the country’s dictatorship ended in 1985. 

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At 9.30pm local time, 90 minutes after her victory was announced, Rousseff appeared in public in Brasilia together with Lula to greet a cheering crowd. The president first thanked her predecessor for his support throughout her campaign, and acknowledged the fact that the outcome had been very close.

“I don’t think this reflects a division in Brazil,” she said. “Rather, emotions came out, sometimes in contradictory fashion, with a single goal: to seek what is best for the country.”

“I want to be a better president than I have been to date,” she added, promising in conciliatory tones that she will effect change and hold a plebiscite on the issue of political reform, as demanded by much of the population.

“We are going to build a more productive, more modern Brazil, but also one that shows more solidarity and cares for people, especially women, blacks and youths.”

Neves also made a public statement, saying that he was “leaving with the feeling that I have fulfilled my role. I have congratulated the re-elected president, wished her success and underscored that her greatest priority right now is uniting the country.”

His words were a reminder that the campaign that began on October 6 – the day after the first round of voting in which Socialist candidate Marina Silva was eliminated – led to an extreme polarization of society around the two remaining contenders.

The poorer, less developed states in the north and northeast expressed almost undivided support for Rousseff

As expected, the poorer and less developed states in the north and northeast of the country, such as Bahía and Pernambuco, expressed almost undivided support for Rousseff. Southern states such as São Paulo, which are wealthier and more industrialized, opted for Neves.

Neves campaigned on a message of economic recovery amid sluggish financial indicators, while Rousseff reminded Brazilians of the social progress made by the PT, which has lifted millions out of poverty through its aid programs.

Few times in Brazilian history have people been so passionately in favor of one or the other hopeful. Conversations about politics could be heard on every street corner. The last TV debate between Rousseff and Neves won audience ratings to rival Brazil’s most popular soap operas.

Even celebrities did their part by taking sides in public. Musicians Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil expressed support for Rousseff, while soccer stars Neymar and Ronaldo backed Neves.

Many political analysts had been warning about the rift, which has led to heated arguments on the streets that occasionally almost descended into fistfights.

Sunday’s outcome means that the PT, the largest group with a true political party structure in Brazil, will be in power for at least 16 straight years: eight with Lula da Silva between 2002 and 2010, and as many again with Rousseff, between 2010 and 2018.