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Brazilian presidency up for grabs, poll shows

February 28th, 2010

Still his to lose

José Serra: Is the presidency still his to lose? Photo: Janine Moraes, flickr

The race for the Brazilian presidency is heating up with just four points now separating the two main candidates and a north-south divide opening up between voters, latest data from polling company Datafolha shows.

While the election is being billed as a battle between two less than charismatic but competent centre-left administrators, lately the race itself has become anything but dull in statistical terms.

Starting from a long way back, Dilma Rousseff, now said to be clear of lymph cancer, is suddenly breathing down the neck of the former health minister José Serra, the long-time frontrunner from the PSDB party.

In two separate Datafolha polls featuring the four candidates expected to feature in the first round of elections and a second round run off the gap between Sấo Paulo state governor Serra and Dilma, who officially declared her candicacy last weekend has narrowed to four points.

The poll puts Serra on 45 points and Dilma on 41 points, should no one get more than half the votes in the first round, meaning the race has to go to a deciding vote on October 31. The last time the pollster thrust the metaphorical thermometre into the mouth of the electorate in mid-December, the difference stood at 11 points.

Former Lula government Integration Minister Ciro Gomes and environtmentalist Senator Marina Silva, who left the president’s Workers Party (PT) over policy disagreements are the two candidates expected to line up with the best-placed contenders in the first round four weeks earlier.

In Brazil’s northeast from where much of the president’s popularity stems, Dilma is on 36 points with Serra on 22, but in the more affluent south and southeast regions Serra scored 38 points in contrast to Dilma’s 24 points.

Serra also scores higher among wealthier, better-educated citizens. Dilma holds sway with those who earn and study less.

Political stardust

Photo: Janine Moraes, flickr

Dilma’s recent surge may have been helped not only by the President Lula’s still astonishingly high 73% poll numbers for a politician in their final year of a second term in office, but also by the fact that he has been banging the drum for her at every opportunity at public appearances, hoping some of his stardust will rub off.

The president, who is not allowed to run for a third consecutive term recently ruled out making a comeback in 2014, saying that Dilma’s bid for office would be made on the basis of trying to achieve two-terms for herself.

While president Lula and Dilma, bidding to become Brazil’s first female president, have been hogging the headlines recently, Serra has yet to officially declare himself a candidate.

Some commentators say it’s about time Serra — defeated by Lula in 2002 — got out on the stump and that when he does his poll ratings should get the benefit of a ‘bounce’, as long as he doesn’t leave it too late.

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17 million Brazilians have sold votes at elections - survey

October 5th, 2009

 Photo Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

As many as 13% of Brazilians admit to having sold their votes in elections, according to a survey by pollster Datafolha published by the Folha da São Paulo newspaper.

Projected across the whole country, the figure equates to 17 million people over the age of 16, among an electorate of 132 million voters.

Almost 80% of those asked said they thought  Brazilians do sell their votes, while 94% condemn the practice.

The survey published a year before Brazilians go to the polls in presidential elections shows 79% of people think votes are sold in the country.

While the gap between rich and poor in Brazil is one of the the widest in the world, vote buying is not a new phenomenom.

Since the first elections were held in Brazil at the end of the 19th century, some of the more unscrupulous politicians seeking power, particularly in poorer more remote areas of the country, in addition to cash have handed voters items such as water, cattle, crop seeds, even paying for false teeth and other dental treatment in exchange for their support at the ballot box.

Voters in the country’s poorer North-East and North Centre West regions topped the list of those having admitted to sell their vote with 19%, while the figure fell to 8% in the more affluent South-East and South regions.

The beauty of the Brazil’s electronic voting system is that once the polls close, results are delivered within a few hours in a country the size of the United States without Alaska.

Though there are no American-style hanging chads, which left the race for the White House undecided for six weeks at the end of 2000, it’s what happens before voters go to the polls that concerns reseachers in this case.

Twelve per cent of those questioned said they would be prepared to sell their vote.

“If a candidate pays my debts I will sell on the spot,” one voter was quoted as saying. “If someone comes to me I’ll sell. I’ve lost all my faith in politics. This [vote] has lost its value,” another reportedly said.

Brazilians can often be heard expressing exasperation and a feeling of helplessness about a seemingly never-ending stream of political corruption scandals.

Before the most recent scandal surrounding Senate President José Sarney, who saw a string of allegations against dropped, months of separate revelations flowed from the capital Brasilia earlier this year, including the misuse of travel expenses meant for official business and overly inflated allowances.

The Datafolha survey revealed 92% of voters believe there is corruption in Congress and among political parties, while 88% think it exists at the very top of government and among the various ministries.

Researchers for the survey interviewed 2,122 people in 150 municipalities across 25 Brazilian states leading Folha da São Paulo to the story in a separate section on Sunday under the headline ‘No one in innocent’, perhaps in reference to the 83% of those surveyed who admitted they have broken the law at least once.

As if to underline that not all Brazilians are lawbreakers, the survey pointed out that 74% said they always respect the law even at the expense of ‘lost opportunities’.

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Presidential Candidate faces chemotherapy

April 26th, 2009

Photo: Fabio Pozzebom Agencia Brasil

Photo: Fabio Pozzebom, Agencia Brasil

Dilma Rousseff, the choice of Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to succeed him, will have to undergo four months of chemotherapy treatment, after recently having a malignant tumour under her left armpit removed.

Doctors in São Paulo say there is a 90% chance the treatment will be successful because it was spotted in the early stages.

Dilma, 61, President Lula’s Chief of Staff, says she plans to continue working normally.

Brazil holds presidential elections towards the end of next year and should Dilma get the ruling Workers Party (PT) nomination, she could become Brazil’s first female head of state.

Dilma, who was jailed and tortured by authorities during Brazil’s military dictatorship period, recently rejected media suggestions she knew anything about an alleged plot by an armed opposition group with which she had links to kidnap a leading economist at the end of 1969.

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Can ‘president’s woman’ negotiate crisis to snatch election win?

March 23rd, 2009

Lula hand Dilma the presidential seal of approval. Photo Agencia Brasil.

Lula hand Dilma the presidential seal of approval. Photo Agencia Brasil.

Space

If Dilma Rousseff wants to become Brazil’s first female president, she will have to win over her own party and a wary middle-class, whilst deciding when to step out of the shadows of current leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose remarkable approval rating has begun to slip, with the effects of the global economic crisis now biting, political commentators say.

With almost two years to go before he steps down, it’s not as if the Brazilian public has given up on Lula, the former shoe-shine boy and union boss, who made it to the top job, after ditching some of his more radical left-wing ideas.

What would most first, never mind second-term leaders give for approval ratings of 65%, after six years in power?

But the question is; with his government’s rating having dropped 5% recently, according to pollster Datafolha, will the shine also start to wear off for those around him, should the crisis deepen?

Helped by a boom in commodities, Brazil posted 5.1% growth in 2008, but lately it seems with almost every bad news item economists have been trimming their growth forecasts.

Since figures were released showing Brazil’s economy shrank 3.6% in the final quarter of 2008 versus the June to September period, the talk has turned to whether there will be any growth at all or indeed a contraction this year.

Two weeks ago, Brazil’s independent central bank cut interest rates by 1.5% to 11.25%, in response to the crisis, with business leaders and opposition politicians urging more drastic action.

Last month’s employment figures in the formal sector look slightly brighter and the government insists 100,00 jobs will be created in March, but reported employment ministry figures show Brazil lost 797,500 jobs from November to January, while a separate CNI/Ibope poll shows 58% of Brazilians think unemployment will get worse in the next six months.

To deflect the blame from himself or his Workers Party (PT), Lula could continue to maintain Brazilians have become victims of a crisis that began outside their own borders, but such a strategy has its limitations, according to political analyst João Augusto Castro Neves at the CAC consultancy in Brasilia.

“When it starts to hit people in the pocket and they start losing jobs, they wont much care where the crisis started,” he says.

Runners & riders

Though there’s no starting pistol to get Brazil’s presidential race officially underway, campaigning will not be far from the news between January and October next year.

Dilma, Lula’s preferred candidate, lines up alongside the other two main early contenders: current frontrunner José Serra who lost to Lula in 2002 and Aécio Neves, both from the same Social Democratic (PSDB) party.

Press reports say all three have been doing their best to be seen, while denying public appearances have anything to do with campaigning.

Photo: Alexandre Silva (fotoca), flickr

Photo: Alexandre Silva (fotoca), flickr

Serra, 67,  (pictured right) a former health minister from 1998 to 2002, whose AIDS programme  offering  universal access to treatment and free condoms was lauded by the United Nations, has also held office as mayor of São Paulo, South America’s largest city with a population of 17 million people.

After two years, Serra stepped down in 2006 to successfully run for governor of São Paulo state, a motor for around half the country’s wealth.

An outspoken critic of the Central Bank’s interest rate policy, he argues rates should have been cut significantly at the outset of the crisis.

Photo: Henrique Ribas, flickr

Neves, 49, (pictured left) now  in his second term as Minas Gerais state governor, has built a reputation by revitalising his state’s finances, through cost-cutting measures and putting the emphasis on reorganisation and modernisation in his administration.

Serious illness struck down his grandfather Tancredo Neves, who died before he could be sworn-in as the first post-military regime president in 1985.

Dilma, 62, a former resistance member, tortured by the military government in the early seventies, helped found the Democratic Labour Party, before jumping ship to Lula’s party a decade ago. He appointed her as energy minister in 2003, before making her his chief-of-staff in 2005.

Most recently, she has managed 11% in national opinion polls, up from 3% a year ago, after being seen increasingly at the president’s side.

The trio may yet be joined by Ciro Gomes (pictured below right), who has stood twice before, in a French-style contest held over two rounds - unless one candidate can deliver a knockout blow by scoring more than 50% at the first attempt.

Photo: Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

Dilma’s Dilemma

Ahead of trying to convince those in Brazil’s middle-classes, who shunned Lula in three previous elections, before finally putting their trust in him in 2002, Dilma has a more pressing target this year, political analyst João Augusto Castro Neves explains.

She must get the 25% of the electorate that would have automatically voted for Lula on her side. Even having Lula’s seal of approval, Dilma could stumble on a lack of recognition and competition from within her own party, he adds.

For Carlos Lopes, political analyst at Brasilia-based Santafé Idéias, the campaign is in its very early stages and the fact Lula’s approval rating is down should make little difference.

“There any many things to do before going out onto the street to shake hands with the public,” he says.

Not least, these include getting to know the quirks and demands of prominent leaders in Brazil’s 26 states , as well as negotiating often awkward political alliances, under the complex proportional representation system used to elect members to Congress and the Senate.

When campaigning does get eventually get serious, Dilma’s rivals will underscore their leadership experience in two of Brazil’s most influential states.

And having never been tested during times of economic adversity, the worse the crisis gets, the more Dilma will have to raise her public profile, political scientist Murillo de Aragão told Epoca magazine.

“Crisis brings doubt. Everyone is going to want to know what her answers are.  Without the crisis, she would already be in the second round,” Aragão says.

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