Brazil voters ‘unmoved by Petrobras scandal’

Anadolu Agency*

SÃO PAULO — Brazilian voters have been largely unmoved by accusations which surfaced this week of a major political scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras, allegedly implicating an array of top political figures, the latest poll published on Wednesday shows.

The most recent Datafolha poll, which surveyed 10,568 eligible voters across the country on 8-9 September, shows a widening gap between the top two candidates in the first round — incumbent president and Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Dilma Rousseff, and environmentalist Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Marina Silva — who scored 36 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

The previous poll in the series had the candidates just one point apart. Wednesday’s poll showed support for Aécio Neves, candidate for the centre-right Social Democracy Party, got 15 percent.

A simulated second-round vote between Silva and Rousseff — now deemed the most likely course the election will take — put the candidates in a technical tie, given the poll’s two-percent margin of error, with Silva on 47 percent and Rousseff on 43 percent.

It was the first poll to be conducted after Saturday’s edition of political magazine Veja claimed a former Petrobras director, Paulo Roberto Costa, in jail since March pending an investigation into his role in the alleged scandal, had given the names of over 40 major politicians reportedly involved in the scheme, as part of a plea-bargain.

Under the alleged kickback scheme, politicians are said to have taken a three-percent commission on contracts signed with the oil giant in exchange for congressional votes.

Among those named are serving Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobão, the presidents of both chambers of Congress, the former governor of Rio de Janeiro state and the current governor of Maranhão state — all of which are from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which is backing Rousseff’s in the presidential race.

It was thought the revelations should be extremely damaging as Rousseff’s vice presidential running mate, Michel Temer, is a PMDB member, and the president herself was on the Petrobras board of directors at the time of the alleged scandal.

However, the list involved figures from a variety of parties, and also included Eduardo Campos, the PSB’s original presidential candidate, who died in a plane crash on 13 August.

‘No impact on voters’

The politicians have vehemently denied involvement in the alleged scheme, but it has not stopped presidential candidates from attempting to score points from the debacle.

Earlier this week Silva said Rousseff had “political responsibility” for the scandal, even if she was not personally responsible, and Neves labelled the situation “extremely serious,” and demanded Rousseff explain what had gone on, adding “[Rousseff’s] government has moved Petrobras from the financial pages to the crime pages”.

However, despite the potential for major election campaign damage, experts say the effect of the scandal on the polls has so far been negligible:

“It appears this latest scandal has simply not had an impact on voting intentions among the majority of Brazilians; these Datafolha results show that the economic middle classes in particular are unmoved by the revelations,” Maria do Socorro Braga, a political scientist from the Federal University of São Carlos, told the Anadolu Agency (AA).

“Frankly, there are key figures from different parties involved. It’s all a question of perception now,” Braga continued.

Others say if more serious crossfire is later traded between candidates — or if more damaging relevations surface — the potential exists for greater impact on the polls, with Rousseff the most vulnerable.

But Rousseff was keeping up a tirade of attacks on Silva on Thursday, particularly over health and education budgets, after the poll showed support for the PT candidate was continuing to claw back advances made by Silva in recent weeks.

Silva fired back accusations that Rousseff’s Workers’ Party had installed Petrobras directors to get access to its finances: “I cannot imagine how people can trust in a party that has put a director in place for 12 years to launch an assault on Petrobras’s coffers.”

Silva is campaigning to clean up the country’s politics and has vowed to sow a “new type of politics” in Brasília — a key demand from demostrators at last year’s million-strong anti-government street protests.

Just another scandal?

Rival candidates also highlighted Rousseff’s high-ranking position within Petrobras at the time of another scandal to hit the company, involving the controversial purchase of an oil terminal in Pasadena, in the U.S. state of Texas.

Commentators have speculated that the timing of these current corruption allegations was intended to maximise damage to Rousseff’s re-election campaign, and have also drawn parallels with Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was also in power when the major “mensalão” cash-for-votes scandal hit his government in the run-up to the 2006 elections in which he, too, was vying for a second term in office.

However, he was re-elected with over 60 percent of the runoff vote, and remains popular today; he has signalled he would run for president again in 2018 if his health permits.

Over 143 million eligible voters in Brazil will head to the polls on 5 October, and if no one candidate manages 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held on 26 October. The vote is compulsory for 18- to 70-year-olds, and optional for 16- and 17-year-olds and the over 70s.

* unedited version

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