Brazil’s election run-off dilemma: Continuity with change or change with continuity?
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Brazil’s election run-off dilemma: Continuity with change or change with continuity?

Don’t believe the hype: Brazil’s presidential hopefuls Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves aren’t really that different.

It might be a sin to say this in the streets of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but neither candidate will cut social programs or avoid tough fiscal measures in 2015. Although financial market analysts and excitable leftists are describing the run-off as a battle between a moral giant and the devil, Rousseff and Neves are actually very similar when it comes to most issues. Their task for the October 26 second-round vote in South America’s most populous nation will be to make subtle variations look like a world of difference.

President Rousseff has already pledged to get rid of bad economic predictions and a more loose fiscal policy. She already took a step in that direction that by waving goodbye to her former finance minister, Guido Mantega. Her allies say someone less Keynesian will take over the position if she wins reelection, but have yet to name anyone.

Right-of-center Neves has already done that: he promises to bring back former Central Bank governor Armínio Fraga, who would take over Mantega’s job to tighten control over his so-called tripod: inflation targets, primary surpluses and floating exchange rate.

In most countries, such a conservative tightening would mean less to spend on social policies. Not in Brazil. Neves has promised to raise the amount paid to Bolsa Família, Brazil’s successful poverty-reduction program. However, he hasn’t said how he will go about this — perhaps this is why Rousseff won more first-round votes in cities where the initiative is key for the local economy and population. Many opposition supporters, especially in the wealthy state of São Paulo, would love to reduce that program to shambles, but that is clearly not the way their candidate is going.

Neither Rousseff nor Neves will touch the polarizing issues of abortion or drug policy — especially now that they will be working with Brazil’s most conservative Congress in generations. LBGTQ rights won’t change much, unless the incumbent president follows up on her pledge to criminalize homophobia (civil marriages are out of question for the next four years). Both are going to care more about investment and development at all costs than environmental issues.

See also: Brazil will not sign U.N. anti-deforestation declaration

The rest will be details to the average Brazilian voters — the social conservatives that make up half of the electorate.

The election is still Rousseff’s to lose: she won the first round, has the support of most governors and, perhaps most importantly, there has never been a comeback in which a second-place opponent won the second round of Brazil’s presidential elections.

Still, just because the outcome seems almost a given, that doesn’t mean it’s all over. To look more like the candidate of change, Neves made a necessary move: he is close to getting the endorsement of Marina Silva, former rising star of Brazilian politics and third-place finisher in the first round of voting. However, her party, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), an old Rousseff ally, is likely to support the president in the run-off.

Whatever happens, it is now clear that Brazil in 2015 won’t be that different from Brazil in 2014. Now that Silva is out of the running, the Brazilian dilemma has more to do with which candidate is most disliked than with the policies that will be implemented in the near future.