Brazil: Female Latino Rousseff Re-Elected President

Brazil’s left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff, was re-elected on October 26th to a second four-year term.  It is the fourth election in a row won by her Workers’ Party (PT).

Perhaps Ms. Rousseff’s victory was inevitable. Only three Latin American presidents have lost re-election bids in the past three decades.  Odds are stacked in favor of incumbents, with all the machinery of power and patronage at their disposal.

Ms Rousseff can point to record-low unemployment, rising wages and falling inequality under the PT’s watch.  Mr. Aécio Neves, the center-right opposition, put up a valiant fight and argued that progress has stalled since Ms Rousseff was first elected in 2010.

The bad side is that the president will lead a divided country.  Most of the richer south, south-east and center-west went convincingly for her market-friendly rival.

In her victory address, Ms. Rousseff did speak of “unity”, “consensus” and “dialogue”.  But healing campaign wounds got off to a poor start when she failed even to mention Mr Neves (who had earlier called to congratulate her and wish her success) or his center-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB).

There may some bad feelings between the two.  In the past, Ms Rousseff’s predecessor and patron, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, went so far as to liken the PSDB to the Nazis for their supposed disregard for the poor.

The PSDB, for its part, has repeatedly accused the PT of being irreparably mired in sleaze, citing a probe into a kickback scheme at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, that allegedly benefited Ms Rousseff’s party and some coalition allies.  Sources claim they are certain to push for a congressional inquiry into the Petrobras scandal.

This and other impending fights are hardly conducive to the sort of broad consensus that will be necessary if Ms Rousseff is to carry out her first priority outlined in the victory speech: political reform to make the country more governable.

For the moment, dysfunction is only likely to increase. Starting in January Congress will host 28 parties, up from an already unwieldy 22 at present.

According to The Economist:  “Ms. Rousseff’s weak mandate—the weakest of any government since democracy was restored in 1985—will make it hard to bang heads together to push through meaningful change.”

Her vow to hold a referendum on political reform deserves credit.  But a previous attempt, prompted by huge nationwide protests in June 2013 that demanded it (among other things), was stymied by congressmen content with the current set-up.

More pressingly, Brazil needs to exit the funk of no growth and high inflation, running at 6.7% a year.

However, Ms. Rousseff roundly dismissed the opposition’s economic ideas on the campaign trail as responsible for high unemployment, prohibitive interest rates and stagnant wages during the PSDB’s tenure in 1995-2002.

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