Brazil elections: Meet the top six presidential candidates

Brazil heads to the polls this Sunday, 5 October, to elect the country’s next president. Some 143 million eligible voters will choose from among 11 candidates, the top three of which are representing broad party coalitions.

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the compulsory vote, a second-round runoff will be held on 26 October between the top two vote-getters.

Meet the six highest-polling candidates, which include Brazil’s incumbent president, Dilma Rousseff, and environmentalist candidate Marina Silva, whose dramatic late as presidential candidate turned the race for the Planalto on its head.

Dilma Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff opens new São Paulo's Guarulhos international airport Terminal 3. Photo by Ben Tavener

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in São Paulo earlier in 2014. Photo by Ben Tavener

Candidate for the leftist Workers’ Party, incumbent president Dilma Rousseff is seeking a second term in office, the maximum permissible in a row. She took the reins from her political mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who held office from 2003 to 2010, who has featured heavily in Rousseff’s campaign (and has hinted he could return in 2018).

Rousseff cut her political teeth as a Socialist activist and was famously jailed and tortured during the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

While in power, her government has continued with much-lauded social programmes that have lifted some 30-40 million people out of poverty, and the nation’s first female president remains popular in poorer parts of the country, particularly the north and northeast regions.

She has struggled, however, in the more affluent, economically- and politically-influential areas of southeastern Brazil, which includes the vast cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Rousseff was handed an economy booming at 7.5 percent in 2010, but it has since dwindled dramatically. The markets aren’t expect more than 0.3 percent growth this year.

She is also accused of mismanaging the country’s biggest company, the state-run oil giant Petrobras, the affairs of which have only soured since her election.

As a result, Rousseff remains out of favour with the markets, who deem her fiscal policy interventionist and oppressive for the economy. Polls suggesting good news for her bid for re-election have repeatedly been followed by turbulence on the country’s Bovespa stock exchange and for the real, the national currency.

Despite that, Rousseff’s re-election appeared safe; however, Marina Silva’s entry upended the presidential race (see below) and second term for the incumbent began to look in doubt.

But in the days leading up to the first round Rousseff’s performance has improved and polls suggest she will lead the field comfortably on 5 October, although probably not enough to win, and a likely Rousseff-Silva runoff is widely considered too close to call.

It has, however, now begun tilting in the incumbent’s favour, and ultimately, this election appears to be Rousseff’s to lose.

At 66, she is the oldest of the top-polling candidates, and younger only to 75-year-old José Maria Eymael, of the Christian Social Democratic Party, who has received less than 1% of support in the polls.

Marina Silva

Marina Silva in São Paulo, September 2014. Photo by Ben Tavener

Marina Silva in São Paulo, September 2014. Photo by Ben Tavener

Slight and almost frail to the eye, the 56-year-old wasn’t even a contender for the presidency two months ago.

Her long, complex political journey has seen her join and quit a number of parties whose politics no longer sat well with her pro-environmental and anti-establishment beliefs. A devout evangelical Christian, Silva was born into poverty, growing up in a family of illiterate rubber-tappers in the Amazonian state of Acre.

Through environmental activism, Silva rose through the political ranks to become environment minister under Lula as part of the Workers’ Party. The love did not last, however, and Silva left the party in 2009 to run for president in 2010 on a Green Party ticket; she placed third with 19 percent of the vote.

In 2014, after failing to get her own Sustainability Network party registered for the elections, Silva agreed to play second vice-presidential fiddle to the Brazilian Socialist Party’s candidate, Eduardo Campos. But fate was to intervene, and on 13 August a plane crash killed Campos, leaving Silva to step up as the party’s only viable option.

Hers was a face more familiar to Brazilians than Campos’s ever was. Her dramatic entry into the race saw her skyrocket in the polls. Where Campos was barely breaking into double figures, Silva soon put Rousseff’s re-election in doubt — and continues to do so.

Silva has both courted the markets and advocating an independence central bank, as well as backing the Socialist policies that have helped alleviate crippling poverty and inequality in the last 15 years.

This unique approach, along with her anti-corruption platform and vow for a “new way” of doing politics, has lured voters, particularly those younger than 30, many of whom took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands in anti-government protests last year to demand political reform.

But casting herself simultaneously as pro-business and in line with leftist social policies has been a risky strategy. Silva has endured constant attacks from Rousseff about being in league with the banks and insinuations she would cut successful social programmes installed under the last government — both of which Silva has denied.

These accusations, and an overall take of exposure on television and radio which is allocated by congressional representation, have all taken their toll on the first-round polls.

But a projected second round between Rousseff and Silva still remains too close to call — and in the three weeks for the runoff, Silva would have equal access on those crucial national broadcasts and a major boost in funding from parties deciding to align with her. For instance, it is believed that the majority of those siding with Aécio Neves will likely flock Silva’s way.

If she wins, Silva will be Brazil’s first non-white president and her journey from such impoverished beginnings would have been a remarkable one.

Aécio Neves

Aécio Neves. Photo by George Gianni.

Aécio Neves. Photo by George Gianni.

Smart and mild-mannered, 54-year-old Aécio Neves is the pro-business candidate for the right-of-centre Social Democracy Party that had been gearing up for the traditional electoral tug-of-war with Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.

Neves has made much of his success as the youngest-ever governor of Minas Gerais state, where he introduced sweeping reforms, reduced spending and boosted investment — strategies he has vowed to take to the Planalto, including by slashing the number of ministries by half.

Silva joining the race complicated matters and Neves was soon registering third in the polls. Rather toothless attacks on Rousseff, including the recent corruption scandal embroiling Petrobras — surely a gift for any rival candidate given Rousseff was on the Petrobras board of directors — and TV performances that seemed to lack virility and substance, have failed to galvanise support for the former governor.

Neves is also seen as somewhat elitist and over-privileged by the many who desire political change.

He has been consistent, though, and even after falling back to a distant third has managed to claw back votes in recent weeks, mainly to Silva’s detriment. Sharing a party with successful governor of São Paulo state, Geraldo Alckmin, has also boosted his performance in the poll in those economic heartlands. However, Neves remains broadly distrusted in poorer parts of the country.

But his current third place in the elections is worrying for the PSDB candidate, who is facing potential first-round elimination. That would be an enormous embarrassment for the party, which has managed to get be in the final two in every presidential elections since 1989.

There is presidential blood in his past: Neves’s political career began alongside his grandfather, Tancredo Neves, who was famously elected president in 1985 but died before taking office.

Eduardo Jorge, Luciana Genro, Pastor Everaldo

The next three candidates have all polled at around 1% in recent weeks but have punched well above their weight in the race, bringing hot-button issues to the fore and stealing the limelight in televised debates, where they have enjoyed equal exposure.

Eduardo Jorge, a 64-year-old doctor running for the Green Party for which Silva ran in 2010, has injected environmental issues and his own brand of slightly hippie levity to proceedings. He is popular among younger voters, and is known for his progressive stances, including advocating for the legalisation of cannabis and abortion. He joined the party in 2003 after leaving the Workers’ Party as Lula took office.

Luciana Genro, the youngest candidate at 43, is running for the left-wing Socialism and Freedom Party, and has LGBT rights front and centre in her campaign. She has argued that nationwide laws to criminalise homophobia and transphobia are required to combat crimes against this demographic, which includes 216 homophobia-associated murders in Brazil so far in 2014. Genro, another former Workers’ Party member, is also calling for greater personal freedoms, including on cannabis and abortion.

Everaldo Pereira, 58, better known as Pastor Everaldo in the elections, is standing for the conservative Social Christian Party and has drawn attention due to his calls for mass privatization, including of Petrobras, the country’s sacrosanct state-run oil company. His staunch “pro-family” stance has put him at odds with campaigns demanding greater rights for the LGBT community and those calling for abortion to be legalised, but he has denied accusations of prejudice.

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