SÃO PAULO — Joaquim Levy stepped down as Brazil’s finance minister on Friday evening, ending months of speculation over his role. He was replaced by former planning minister Nelson Barbosa, who is seen as closer to leftist President Dilma Rousseff.

Levy was a proponent of tough fiscal measures which he backed to lift Brazil out of the worst recession it has experienced in 25 years.

His appointment and fiscal adjustment plans had been warmly welcomed by the markets, and was widely seen as an attempt by the government to draw greater confidence in the Brazilian economy from investors.

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Al Jazeera America

SÃO PAULO — On Aug. 16, hundreds of thousands of protesters across Brazil took to the streets demanding President Dilma Rousseff’s ouster over an economy in recession and a corruption scandal at the state-run oil firm Petrobras.

Police estimated at least 879,000 people joined the nationwide demonstrations. Rousseff, who was re-elected to a second term by a whisker 10 months ago, has seen her approval rating dip over the past few months. There is now little confidence in her ability to govern effectively and get Brazil’s economy back into the black.

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Israel has lambasted Brazil over a decision to recall its ambassador for consultations in protest at Israel’s ongoing military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Brazil’s actions “do not contribute to promote calm and stability in the region”.

“Rather, they provide tailwind to terrorism, and naturally affect Brazil’s capacity to wield influence,” the statement continued.

(UPDATE: Brazil is now studying its response to comments from Israel that it is “politically irrelevant”, possibly from President Rousseff personally, according to the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.)

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO (AA) – The President of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, the first black person to hold the position, is to retire in June, it was announced on Thursday.

Nominated to join Brazil’s highest court by former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003, Barbosa, 59, rose up the ranks to head the court as Chief Justice in November 2012.

He is one of Brazil’s most popular and influential public figures, and was voted in the top 100 influential men in the world by Time Magazine in 2013.

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Key figures in Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT) have rallied around President Dilma Rousseff at the party’s national conference on Friday in an attempt to put an end to rumours that the party’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could run as the party’s presidential candidate in this year’s general elections.

UPDATE: Rousseff officially confirmed as party’s candidate, and Lula tells conference there is “no other candidate” but warns party “won’t have easy campaign”.

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Brazil’s incumbent president Dilma Rousseff would win a second term in office comfortably and without a runoff if this year’s general elections were held today, an influential pollster in the country said on Thursday.

Despite a first term in office dominated by a stagnant economy and, later, anti-government protests, Rousseff would still hold a wide lead over her rivals, according to the poll by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, IBOPE.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff. Photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff has a wide lead over rivals for October’s presidential elections. Photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho.

The survey of 2,002 people conducted between 13 and 17 March, which had a margin of error of ±2%, gave the current president a vote share of between 40% and 43%, depending on which opponents she faced.

IBOPE gave those surveyed a variety of scenarios given not all candidates may yet have officially entered the race.

Rousseff’s nearest rival was Aécio Neves, a senator from Minas Gerais state and member of the country’s main opposition party, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). He would garner around 13% of the vote, the poll suggested.

PSB candidate Eduardo Campos, who recently launched a scathing attack on the president, would get 6% of votes and third place.

Crucially, the IBOPE survey showed that many Brazilians have yet to make up their minds. Many responded that they would spoil their vote or simply did not know yet.

Ibope survey

The IBOPE survey shows Rousseff would get 40%, Neves 13% and Campos 6%, but that 24% would spoil their ballot and 12% were unsure. Graphic by G1.

Although the Brazilian electoral system would normally require a candidate to reach the 50 percent threshold in order to avoid a second round, the pollster said that Rousseff would get more votes than all other candidates combined and therefore take the election in the first round.

Voting in the general elections on 5 October, based upon which the president, deputies, senators, state governors and state legislatures are appointed, is mandatory but Brazilians can spoil their vote or not vote for a legitimate reason which they then have to ‘justify’ to the authorities.

The news was welcomed by Rousseff and her Workers Party (PT), particularly after her approval ratings slumped from over 60% towards the beginning of her presidency to just 31% in the wake of last year’s mass anti-government protests, which saw over a million Brazilians take to the streets – although this had recovered to around 40% by November 2013.

Some 7% of respondents said they would vote for the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, although he is not running and has publicly backed Dilma Rousseff, whom he put forward for the 2010 elections after reaching a maximum of two terms in office.

President Lula left office with approval ratings of 83%.

Extended version of report written for Anadolu Agency

Voters in fifty cities, including 17 state capitals, headed back to the polls on Sunday in the second round of Brazil’s municipal elections, to decide on their prefeito (city mayor). The municipal elections have also served as a mid-term litmus test on the popularity of the parties looking toward the 2014 presidential race.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and new São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, photo by Antônio Cruz/ABr.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and new São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad meet at the Planalto, Brasília, a day after his victory in the second round of municipal elections. Photo by Antônio Cruz/ABr.

The second round involved cities with populations over 200,000 where no candidate had reached the fifty-percent threshold in the first round held on October 7th.

The win by Fernando Haddad (PT) as mayor of São Paulo against rival José Serra (PSDB) was perhaps the best news for the party.

However, the PT did not fare as well nationwide, losing control of much of the northeast, including Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza.

The PT is now leading in bigger cities while the PMDB is in smaller ones, and half of the elected candidates are from the three leading parties – the PT, PMDB and PSDB.

Also in the full article on The Rio Times (click here):

  • Did the Mensalão scandal affects the number of votes the PT received?
  • Who will be in the running for the 2014 presidential elections after Serra’s disappointing result in São Paulo?
  • What will now happen to the political landscape in Brazil?

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.