SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday (Monday in Manila) won a second term as the leader of the world’s fourth-largest democracy in the nation’s closest presidential election in more than two decades.
Her triumph came despite a sluggish economy, corruption allegations, discontent over the quality of public services and anger over the government’s handling of two major international sporting events—last summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Still, the victory will put Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party in power for 16 consecutive years, an unprecedented stint at the helm of Latin America’s largest economy.
With 98 percent of the voted counted, Rousseff, 66, an economist who became Brazil’s first female president in 2010, had won 51.45 percent. Her opponent, Aecio Neves, a senator and former governor of Minas Gerais state, an important mining center, received 48.55 percent, according to the country’s electoral officials.
Neves conceded shortly after the results. In brief remarks to supporters, he said he had called Rousseff and `”wished her success in the conduct of her future government.”
Rousseff performed best, as expected, in the country’s northeast, which has had an economic boom and where poverty has dropped and the middle class has expanded in the 12 years that Rousseff and her predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have been in power.
She also appeared likely to have won Minais Gerais, where Neves had been governor.
Her win was due in large part to the belief among many voters that she remained the better candidate to decrease social and economic inequality in Brazil, which is a fundamental issue in a large developing country like Brazil.
“She favors the most needy and vulnerable,” said Rousseff voter Daniel Theodoro, 39, after he voted near Sao Paulo’s Plaza Republica in the rundown old historic center.
Another Rousseff supporter, Gabriela Luz, 29, said she thought Rousseff’s government was more representative of Brazil. “I fear a government of Aecio represents a step backwards, and will be a government for the minority,” she said.
Corruption and the stalled economy remain concerns, said Luz, who voted at the Colegio Sao Luis in the Bela Vista neighborhood in Sao Paulo. But she said she expected Rousseff to do a better job on those issues in her new term.
Given the narrow margin of victory, Rousseff is likely to have to build bridges to Neves’ Brazilian Social Democratic Party, a centrist party that has long been a bitter rival of the leftist Workers’ Party.
In trying to unseat Rousseff, Neves campaigned on the economy, which contracted in the first two quarters of this year, hurt in part by the decline of global commodity prices and the impact of the slowing of growth in China, a major Brazilian trading partner.
The government’s handling of Petrobras, the state-run oil giant also became a major election issue and was pushed hard by Neves. In addition to facing more recent corruption allegations, the company’s bottom line has been hit hard going back to 2012 and oil production has sagged, forcing it to import oil.
Rousseff was particularly vulnerable on the Petrobras issues, because she had chaired the oil company’s board of directors before becoming president—a position that her supporters widely touted during her first presidential campaign.
Now she’s embroiled in allegations of a kickback scheme involving the company.