Dilma and Brazil’s Upcoming Elections

In October, Brazilians go to the polls in the country’s municipal elections, which take place every four years to elect a vereador (councillor) and prefeito (mayor) in Brazil’s 5,566 local municipalities.

This week, candidates can start rolling out their TV and radio campaigns to try to impress the voters and garner support – with alternate days allotted for councillor and mayor propagandas. Voting in the elections is a legal requirement for Brazilians.

President Dilma Rousseff at Mercosur meeting. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

President Dilma Rousseff appears to want to keep a low profile in the run-up to municipal elections this October. (Photo: ABr)

But some people here have been questioning exactly what role incumbent president Dilma Rousseff will play in the elections, when candidates can often be seen posing with more powerful politicians to add clout to their campaign.

According to a recent survey, Dilma is now Brazil’s most popular leader since the end of the Military Dictatorship in 1985, even surpassing former president Lula’s impressive level of popularity and general public backing.

Some are saying that Dilma is, for now, keeping an intentionally low profile in domestic politics. And there are certainly plenty of reasons why she would want to keep her head down and not plaster her face across various candidates’ election campaigns – despite the powerful nature of her endorsement.

The Mensalão Scandal  Although Dilma hasn’t been dragged through the mud – not yet at least – during the STF judgment of the political scandal of the decade in Brazil, her party, PT – the Workers’ Party – is very much at the centre of this complex and far-reaching cash-for-votes scandal. She is likely to keep her nose clean, but former President Lula might not – and the two are very closely linked in people’s minds. No extra bad press needed, that’s for sure.

Strikes — The main figures in the ongoing public sector strikes – which are affecting a number of public services, from federal universities to the federal police – could represent a major challenge to the president’s authority.

“The STRIKE is strong and the fight is NOW” – The strike by lecturers at Paraná Federal University is now into its fourth month. (Photo: Ben Tavener)

While she might remain popular, she doesn’t need anything that will undermine her authority and the strikers could easily turn round municipal election publicity opportunities and use them against her.

She would rather avoid the embarrassment, given her main reaction to the strikes so far has been one of obvious frustration.

Economy slowdown — There has been a lot of bad news about the Brazilian economy in the first half of this year, including a major exodus by foreign investors. Dilma has been betting on a return to growth by the end of the year – through a number of stimulus packages, including promising more infrastructure investment, slashing interest rates, and providing easier access to loans for the public.

She arrived in power during a major surge for the economy – Brazil posted 7.5% growth in 2010 – but the official predicts for this year have been slashed repeatedly from 4.5 to 4%, and then to 3%, and now to 1.75%.

Clearly, the president is doing what she can to provide stimulus for the economy, but critics have said that she is the bottleneck for a lot of investment projects, kept waiting while she meticulously goes over all the plans before signing off, and they say she is therefore one of the reason that sorely-needed funding in national infrastructure projects is not getting a green light soon enough – stifling economic growth.

Local focus — Despite possible threats to Dilma’s popularity from things like the economy, as just mentioned, the municipal elections are local – and if the infrastructure project bottlenecked in the Planalto doesn’t affect particular voters’ cities, and remember there are 5,566 municipalities voting – then local issues are going to dominate the elections. Dilma’s face won’t change that. As some have said, “national ingredients don’t make a local election”.

Municipal elections, although with less of a national focus, do create tensions between the various political parties that make up the sprawling governing coalition. No one needs to up the ante with Dilma’s face unwittingly drawing focus from local issues.

Presidential overload — Some say that, two years after the most publicised, social media-targeting presidential elections ever, people aren’t yet ready to have Dilmas and Lulas shoved in their faces again. There will be plenty of that in 2014 – where the next presidential elections are due to be held.

It is easy to see the 2012 municipal elections as a type of midterm for the presidency, and undoubtedly a loss for PT candidates will be seen as some as a vote against Dilma, given what’s happening politically and economically in the country at the moment.

Dilma would rather skip the chance of a midterm evaluation – it rarely helps any president.

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