Until recently, Brazil’s presidential elections were well on the way to a boring conclusion, as reelection looked certain for incumbent President Dilma Rousseff.
But then the June 2013 protests came, and her popularity disappeared. She had to wait for the World Cup to run smoothly to get some praise. But when a plane crash killed another candidate and his substitute suddenly rose to stardom, the incumbent had some work to do. In the end, Marina Silva couldn’t keep her role in this year’s best global political soap opera, and gave way to the male antagonist Aécio Neves.
Now, less than a week away from the decisive vote, no one knows who will be the country’s next leader.
Polls show a statistical tie between Neves and Rousseff — though Rousseff was slightly ahead in a poll released Monday night, the margin of error still makes the race far too close to call. The country is clearly split, and the 10 percent or so of undecided voters are going to determine what will happen in the next four years.
The ruling Worker’s Party (Rousseff) wants to remain in the office it has held since 2003, beginning with Rousseff’s mentor and a likely presidential candidate in 2018, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Neves) wishes to reclaim the Presidency they it under Fernando Henrique Cardoso from 1995 to 2002. The surveys show little indication so far on who could win.
History says a bit about this phase of the campaign, though. Neves emerged stronger after beating Silva for the place in the run-off and has made a strong case for his candidacy since then. But the final week of the campaign, in which emotional arguments tend to weigh more, could tip the balance towards Rousseff — the sheer presence of Lula on the TV screens, pleading with voters to carry on, has a strong impact on Brazil. The dead heat is making both candidates more aggressive, looking for every vote they can get on October 26.
Neves is betting on a scandal with Petrobras, the country’s oil giant, to sway voters against Rousseff’s party. Brazilian federal police recently discovered a scheme under which officials were taking kickbacks from contractors to pay to political parties — mainly Rousseff’s Worker’s Party. Meanwhile, the president is aiming at Neves himself and scandals involving nepotism and the construction of a small airport on one of his uncle’s properties — the keys to the place were with his family during the time he governed Brazil’s second most powerful state, Minas Gerais. Overall, the media is more sided with Neves than with Rousseff.
In the final days of Brazil’s presidential election, there will be debates on TV and heavy campaigning in key battlegrounds: São Paulo and Minas Gerais states are opposition strongholds, while northeastern Brazil votes overwhelmingly with the government. In an election that is too close to call, any slip could be decisive. The biggest focus of attention of the Brazilian public will be the showdown between the two candidates on Globo TV, the most powerful media outlet of the country, which will take place only two days before the vote.
Brazil’s presidential soap opera is on the way to revealing all its secrets, but only in the final episode.