September 30, 2010
Q1: What are the expected results of Brazil’s general elections on October 3?
A1: Brazilians will elect a new president, the entire lower house of Congress (Chamber of Deputies), two-thirds of the Senate, and state officials, including governors. Most attention is focused on the presidential race, where President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s hand-picked candidate, former cabinet chief and minister of energy Dilma Rousseff, is a heavy favorite to win. Polls show Rousseff comfortably ahead of her closest rival, the veteran politician José Serra of the Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB), with about 49–51 percent of votes, compared to 25–28 percent for Serra. Brazil’s electoral systems establishes a second round of presidential voting should a candidate not win a majority of valid votes cast on October 3. Under these circumstances, Rousseff has a good chance to win outright—with about 55 percent of valid votes projected.
Q2: Why is Rousseff expected to win?
A2: Rousseff’s expected victory can largely be attributed to President Lula’s extraordinary popularity; support for his policies across a wide social and geographic spectrum, especially among the poor in the northeast of the country and with the rapidly growing lower-middle class; and the prevailing sense that Brazil is headed in the right direction. Several key factors have reinforced Lula’s support, including substantial gains in real wages in past years, important cash transfer programs to Brazil’s least advantaged families, falling poverty rates, upward socioeconomic mobility into middle class status, and a strong economy that has recovered very quickly from the global economic downturn in 2008–2009. Rousseff is clearly identified as Lula’s candidate and represents continuity with the policies that helped forge and amplify Lula’s base of support. With the election resembling a plebiscite on Lula’s record and personal standing with voters, Serra is at a distinct disadvantage.
Q3: What changes will occur should Rousseff win the presidency?
A3: Continuity in Brazil’s overall domestic and foreign policy is likely to dominate the outlook for a government led by Dilma Rousseff. Most of her top advisers on economic and foreign policy were key figures in the two Lula administrations and, while Rousseff would certainly make adjustments reflecting her own vision and the dynamic of political pressure emerging from within her government and from Brazil’s changing society, policy continuity should be the norm. One key challenge will be to form and maintain a governing coalition in Congress. Lula was a master coalition builder, but Rousseff lacks his political experience and personal clout.
Q4: What do the elections mean for Brazil-U.S. relations?
A4: The relationship between Brazil and the United States is unlikely to be much affected by the election. A Dilma Rousseff administration would generally follow the overall policy direction of Lula, seeking good relations with the United States but avoiding ties that would limit its flexibility as it strives for enhanced international status. The United States will continue to pay particular attention to its relationship with Brazil, both in terms of Brazil’s leadership role in South America and its emergence as a global actor.
Peter DeShazo is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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