Former Environment Minister Marina Silva, a critic of President Dilma Rousseff seen as a third way in Brazilian politics, was formally announced on Wednesday as the new Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB for its name in Portuguese) candidate for president. Silva is replacing former PSB candidate Eduardo Campos, who was killed in a plane crash on August 13.
The PSB’s decision came after a round of consultations with local leaders and a poll that showed Silva in a competitive position. The first round of voting will be held on October 5.
Campos was third in the polls with 8 percent of the vote until last week, when his jet crashed in the coastal city of Santos, near São Paulo. Silva, who failed to start her own political party and joined PSB ten months ago in order to be part of Campos’ presidential ticket, promised to “honor the commitment of bringing Eduardo’s project forward.”
A Datafolha poll taken during the aftermath of the crash shows Silva tied with opposition candidate Aécio Neves for the first round of voting, as well as with incumbent Rousseff in a potential runoff.
This Thursday will be an important day for Silva’s campaign: she will have her first appearance in PSB programs on free-to-air channels. These programs, which began airing on radio and television stations on August 19, will run up until October 1. Although the campaign kicked off in June of last year during the street protests, most Brazilians will only pay attention to the candidates and the elections once the political ads are up and running on primetime TV.
Brazil’s electoral law gives candidates and their parties a considerable amount of airtime, depending on the number of representatives each coalition has in Congress. Rousseff will be on air for more than 11 minutes in each of the two programs that will be shown on the popular free-to-air channels every two days. Neves received about 5 minutes, and Silva got 1:47 — not so different from the amount of time she received as a presidential candidate in 2010, when 20 million people voted for her.
Silva chose Congressman Beto Albuquerque, who has strong ties to agribusiness, as her running mate. This is a strategic choice, as some Brazilian business leaders are still suspicious of Silva, who became a global figure against deforestation. Albuquerque will maintain local deals made by Campos, including a key one to reelect São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin.
Once an ally of powerful former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is Rousseff’s most prominent supporter, Silva is now at odds with him and his Worker’s Party (PT in Portuguese). Behind closed doors, she has said that Lula’s influence stopped her from getting her own party together in time for the general elections. The decision to join PSB, she has acknowledged, was an improvisation. In 2010, when Rouseff beat the opposition’s José Serra, Silva remained neutral in the runoff.
Another Datafolha poll is likely to be published next week to measure the impact of the free airtime on support for the candidates. Already, experts and politicians admit the political landscape has changed dramatically from what once seemed to be an obvious outcome, before Campos’ tragic death.