Marina Silva’s Unclear Endorsement Capacity: Reflections on Brazilian Election Results

Is Marina Silva able and willing to endorse? Who will win the battle for signification of change? After the main text, some wild speculation on countering the right-wing momentum of São Paulo with Lula the governor and more serious speculation on the second round of the presidential election.

The results of the elections in Brazil are coming in now. It is too early for a full electoral assessment, especially as the parliamentary results are still unclear, but a few comments can be made.

Now that Dilma Roussef is facing the more explicitly pro-business Aécio Neves in the second round of the presidential election, the left-right spectrum is clearer than in some moments of the first round. This also means that if Marina Silva takes a stand in favor of any of the two, the same applies to her. There has been much talk of Marina Silva’s gradual move toward more conservative and pro-business positions. The fact that Dilma Roussef campaign strongly targeted her as a main adversary increases the likelihood that she might turn more openly right in the second round.

Even if Marina Silva has not been very clear about a possible endorsement during the first hours of her defeat, the influential Folha de São Paulo newspaper is already interpreting her comments as pro-Aécio Neves. Whatever position she may personally declare, her capacity to endorse votes is still an open question. It also needs to be noted that in case she decides to declare support for Aécio Neves, at least some important figures in the nominally socialist PSB party that was behind her candidacy are likely to support Dilma Roussef.

Some of the voter base of Marina Silva resembles the typical profile of the young people who took to the streets in the massive protest wave of June 2013. She also gets support from a section of conservative religious voters. While the latter are more likely to become voters of Aécio Neves, the former might not do so even if instructed by her. As the voters of Marina Silva were the ones most clearly looking for a change, the battle for the meaning of change is likely to play a big role in the coming weeks.

The opinion polls registered a last-minute trend in favor of Aécio Neves, but the magnitude of his victory over the third-placed Marina Silva was still surprising. Even if no new opinion polls of the second round have come out yet, right now he appears as more of a threat to the reelection prospects of Dilma Roussef than seemed possible only a short while ago.

Whatever the first opinion polls after Sunday’s first round results will say, we need to remember that the second-round campaigning may still change the situation. While Dilma Roussef had a clear advantage over all adversaries in the official TV campaign air time slots during the first round, the second-round time slots will be shared equally between the two. This might be a point in favor of Aécio Neves, though we have to remember that as a pro-business candidate he has already enjoyed wide support in many influential media houses.

One thing that helped Aécio Neves get to the second round was that the campaign of Dilma Roussef targeted Marina Silva quite harshly. Now the heavy electoral machinery of the Workers’ Party will be focused against Aécio Neves. In the campaign, he will probably be cast as a shadow from the past in which poverty was more wide-spread.

For the Dilma campaign, it is important to make her a representative of change. A challenging but not impossible task for a party that has enjoyed 12 consecutive years in federal government. One important battle of ideas will be between different conceptions of change. The Workers Party needs to convince voters that their 12 years in government signify a process of transformation and a right-wing victory would get Brazilians back to business as usual.

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PS. Right-wing Momentum of São Paulo and A Lula Counter-Factual

In the mosaic of Brazilian federal elections, the local and state contexts play an important role. The most important of them all is São Paulo. I speculated a couple of years ago that if Lula really wanted to help his party in this election, he should run for the governor of São Paulo. Even if the Workers’ Party has won the city government of São Paulo many times, it has never gained the state governorship of the most influential region of Brazil. With Lula this would have been possible.

The right-wing governor Geraldo Alckmin was just reelected with a clear victory in São Paulo. There was also a relatively high number of absent and null votes. The Workers’ Party had a confused campaign strategy, partially reflecting the complicated alliance structure of Brazilian politics, and did not even clearly support its own candidate (who finally did better than the opinion polls had indicated) in the race for the governorship. A side effect of this was that Aécio Neves also got a significant boost for his presidential prospects from the voters of São Paulo.

Of course, it might have seemed strange for an ex head of state like Lula to settle for a mere governor position. In Brazil, this would in any case not be as strange as somewhere else. Right now, as I write this, results are coming in from the senatorial race of the Alagoas state, where ex-President Fernando Collor (PTB) has secured a seat in the Senate, winning over the ex presidential candidate of the radical left Heloísa Helena (PSOL). Yes, I know, there is a difference in the legacy of the two. Collor was impeached while Lula completed two terms as probably the most popular president of all times in Brazil.

As Lula is clearly keeping his personal option open for the 2018 presidential campaign, speculation on the São Paulo ticket may seem at odds with reality. As an exercise in counterfactual history, however, we could speculate on how the electoral situation would look today. The Workers Party would probably have conquered São Paulo state with Lula for the first time and Dilma would probably have already secured her reelection.

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I have previously argued that Dilma’s reelection prospects would not be radically shattered by Marina Silva’s appearance in the race. Even if the situation vis-à-vis Aécio Neves is now wide open, the most possible scenario on my radar is still a Dilma victory. It can, of course, be embarrassing for a social scientist to speculate on future scenarios when they coincide with the personal preferences of the speculator. In any case, the Workers’ Party is likely to be weakened if the first prognosis of the congress results holds. According to the provisional results, the party would lose many seats though it is still likely to remain the biggest party of the country.

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Teivo Teivainen is Professor of World Politics at the Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki and Visiting Professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

Phone: +358-50-3505120. E-mail: teivo.teivainen@helsinki.fi. Twitter @teivoteivainen.

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