President Dilma Rousseff could win reelection today — or conservative opposition candidate Aécio Neves could be the incumbent’s adversary in an October 26 run-off.
Both possibilities were considered impossible a couple of weeks ago, but things have changed dramatically. Just a few weeks after emerging as the voters’ darling, environmentalist and surprise candidate Marina Silva has lost her appeal and doesn’t look nearly so fashionable now. She is now being hammered by voters, politicians, establishment and anti-establishment activists.
Welcome to Brazil’s most exciting election in decades.
The most recent figures put Rousseff four points away from a first-round victory, and show a second-place tie between Neves and Silva. The pro-business senator Neves is numerically ahead of the Amazon activist for the first time since she joined the race a month ago, making about 10 percent of undecided voters a key factor in the final decision.
Silva led the polls immediately after the tragic death of her running mate Eduardo Campos, who was on top of the ticket, in a plane crash about a month ago.
That’s when Rousseff and Neves began, as they say, “deconstructing Marina.” Flip-flopper, too insecure, too frail, too close to financial markets, too risky; all those were used to paint the lady from the Amazon as a weak candidate. And it has worked so far, as Silva’s camp has struggled to defend itself against the criticism.
The latest Datafolha poll shows President Rousseff with 44 percentage points, Neves with 27 and Silva with 24 percent. Rousseff is the favorite for the run-off and would beat either of her challengers, according to the last poll, published on Saturday.
The decisive factor in the last few days was a debate on the hugely popular Globo TV network, broadcast on Thursday night. Experts say Silva could have saved her campaign from doomsday, but she did poorly in the debate and was seen as the loser in direct discussions with Rousseff, Neves and even less prominent candidates.
But trends will only translate into reality later today. There is still so much uncertainty surrounding the vote that many Rousseff allies have spent the last hours wondering whether they should push for a win in the first round — and deal with the risks of losing voters — or accept a run-off as unavoidable and play it safe, as the Brazilian electorate usually rejects bold moves in the end of the campaign season.
Rousseff pushing ahead now could also boost the presence of her Worker’s Party (PT) in Congress. This is key for a potential run-off, which would depend heavily on candidates’ political support. Projections show PT will get about 90 out of 513 seats in Congress and maintain 13 out of the 81 senators in the house. If Rousseff adds more members to her alliance, she will likely have more than half of both houses to govern. Silva and Neves, on the other hand, lag far behind those numbers and would need to broker deals that aren’t available just yet.
If there is a run-off, Rousseff and her adversary will again have free TV airtime three times a week to show their plans. In the first round, the incumbent president had more than 11 minutes, compared to about five for Neves and less than two minutes for Silva — the amount of free airtime for each candidate is dictated by the number of elected representatives from their respective parties.
However, this would all change for the second vote, in which candidates receive 10 minutes each.
That alone suggests the thrilling presidential elections in Brazil could go down to the very last day — which, of course, could very well be tomorrow.