TIME brazil

Brazil’s Presidential Race Upended by a Dark Horse

BRAZIL-CAMPAIGN-MARINA SILVA
Marina Silva, the presidential candidate of the Brazilian Socialist Party Miguel Schincariol—AFP/Getty Images

The campaign has only just begun, but Marina Silva, who was handed the Brazilian Socialist Party's nomination after her running mate died in a plane crash, is now the candidate to beat

On the streets of central Rio de Janeiro this week, a man pushed a wheeled garbage bin that had been converted into a mobile sound system and was blasting a hip-hop-style campaign jingle. Two unsmiling clowns handed out election leaflets for a state deputy. Campaigning has officially begun in Brazil for Oct. 5 elections, and the noise level has significantly increased.

But this time around, there is little attention being paid to the habitual joke candidates — the three bin Ladens, Jesus, or São Paulo state-deputy candidate Paulo Batista, who flies through his homemade campaign video, zapping communists with red laser beams fired from his eyes.

Instead it is the gale of popular support whipping up behind environmentalist Marina Silva that is making all the news. The latest poll on Aug. 29 put Silva neck and neck with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff — both have 34%, leaving third-placed Aécio Neves with 15%. In a second-round simulation, Silva had 50% to Rousseff’s 40%.

It has been an extraordinary turnaround. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) has run Brazil since 2003, and the President looked like a sure thing for re-election until Aug. 13, when a small plane carrying then third-placed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos crashed, killing all seven on board. At the time, Rousseff led with 38%, and Campos, a former governor of Pernambuco state who was pushing a third-way platform for his Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), had just 9%.

His death catapulted Silva, his running mate, into the election. She had polled nearly 20 million votes in the 2010 election as a Green Party candidate and accepted a role as Campos’ vice-presidential candidate when attempts to found her own Sustainability Network party foundered. Now this former Environment Minister, who was raised in an illiterate, desperately poor family of rubber tappers in the Brazilian Amazon, is favored to win. Her name was chanted by some of the 130,000 mourners at Campos’ funeral.

The extent of her rise is all the more remarkable given PT’s status as a formidable political machine. Its large umbrella of coalition parties is campaigning with over five times the allotted television advertising time of Silva’s PSB.

“It is a public-opinion phenomenon … an epidemic,” says Jairo Nicolau, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “This is the first time this happened in a presidential election.”

Rousseff is also facing a perfect storm of negative coverage. Not only has Brazil’s economy retracted for the second quarter running, putting the country technically in recession, but she was also embarrassed by comments alleged to have been made by a disgraced member of her party last week.

José Dirceu, former chief of staff to PT’s phenomenally popular ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — known simply as Lula — recently called her “Lula in a skirt,” according to a blog written by Fernando Rodrigues on the UOL news site. Dirceu, jailed with other PT bosses last year in a major vote-buying scandal, has denied the comment, but the phrase has stuck.

Memories of that scandal haven’t helped. In a recent interview on TV Globo’s prime-time Jornal Nacional news program, Rousseff refused to condemn party workers who had hailed Dirceu and other jailed PT bosses as heroes. “Perhaps the biggest PT mistake is not to have criticized themselves over corruption,” says Nicolau.

That’s especially pertinent given Rousseff’s party’s ambitious reform proposals. The PT wants to form a constituent assembly to carry out political reform with public financing for campaigns to avoid “strategies based on purchasing power.”

Silva’s reforms are no less ambitious. Her “new politics” agenda seeks a five-year mandate instead of the current four, and she says she will not stand for re-election. Her party’s program promises transparency in the funding of electoral campaigns and easier rules for referendums. “One of the most important projects, at this moment in the history of Brazil, is that we can renew politics,” Silva said in her own Jornal Nacional interview.

Silva is picking up support from disaffected urban voters who flooded Brazilian streets in protests in 2013, and a middle class tired of corruption scandals like the one that saw Dirceu jailed. “Society does not recognize itself in the parties, and does not recognize itself in the way politics is going,” says Ricardo Ismael, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

She has also been polling well among Brazil’s increasingly influential evangelical Christians. She is herself evangelical — although there is also an evangelical candidate, Everaldo Dias Pereira, better known as Pastor Everaldo, who is trailing with 2%.

(Her desire to appeal to religious voters seems to have affected her agenda, somewhat. When the PSB program was launched on Aug. 29, it included proposals to legalize gay marriage and criminalize homophobia. That might have angered evangelicals but could have given Silva more support among liberal urban voters. A day later, however, Silva withdrew the proposals as a “mistake.”)

But perhaps the most important issue in this election is the economy. Rousseff and PT have been buoyed, in recent years, by the stable economy and economic growth it enjoyed for a decade. The party used that economic growth to fund programs like the Family Purse income-support scheme to end social exclusion. A generation of poorer Brazilians advanced to a lower-middle class, called Class C. GDP growth peaked at 7.5% in 2010.

Brazil isn’t growing anymore, though, and the economy’s stagnation is now one of Rousseff’s biggest problems. “This is an extremely vulnerable point in Dilma’s campaign,” says Paulo Fábio Dantas Neto, political scientist at the Federal University of Bahia in Salvador.

It’s one that Silva has been able to capitalize on. Markets rose this week on what is being called the “Marina effect” — the market-friendly PSB manifesto promises an independent Central Bank and more public-private partnerships to promote more much needed investments in infrastructure.

While Neves and his center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) have tried to take a business-friendly approach, voters are now primed to dismiss him as business as usual. “The electorate does not want more PT and will not vote for Aécio,” says Ismael. “Marina fills a space for those who want to change but do not want the PSDB.”

So is Silva a sure thing? Not necessarily, says Nicolau, who advises that Brazilian public opinion has shown itself volatile in recent years. The mass street protests of June 2013 dissipated rapidly. World Cup disappointment just prior to the tournament turned to pride once the tournament began.

“It is very volatile for some feelings, some perceptions. Today Marina is a phenomenon, but she could deflate,” he says.

TIME brazil

The Green Activist Who Might Become Brazil’s Next President

Brazilian Socialist Party presidential candidate Marina Silva attends a Mass for late presidential candidate Eduardo Campos at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil, Aug. 19, 2014.
Brazilian Socialist Party presidential candidate Marina Silva attends a Mass for late presidential candidate Eduardo Campos at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil on Aug. 19, 2014. Eraldo Peres—AP

Marina Silva is likely to shake up the country's presidential race after replacing the late Eduardo Campos as candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party

No sooner had news broken of the small aircraft crash that killed presidential candidate Eduardo Campos than attention in Brazil turned to Marina Silva.

The late politician’s running mate, a former environment minister and third place finisher in the first round of voting in 2010’s presidential race, was the obvious choice to replace him as candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party, PSB.

And yet Silva, whose nomination is expected to be confirmed by the party on Aug. 20., seemed almost reluctant to take Campos’ place. People who know Silva, a deeply religious evangelical Christian, say she is motivated by a sense of responsibility rather than raw ambition.

“She is very simple and true person, very correct. She says what she thinks. Although she is a political being, she is a very truthful being,” said Marília de Camargo Cesar, who wrote a 2010 biography of Silva.

Pollsters say Silva is now the politician most likely to pick up the previously undecided ‘protest vote’ that sent millions of Brazilians onto the streets in massed demonstrations in June last year.

On Monday, the first poll since Campos’s death gave Silva 21%, technically level (within the margin of error) with Aécio Neves, from the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, PSDB, who had 20%. Neves had until then been the main threat to President Dilma Rousseff, up for re-election and polling at 36%. Rousseff’s Workers Party, PT, has run Brazil since 2003.

In one second round simulation, Silva had 47% to the president’s 43% – technically, neck and neck. Until Monday, Roussef had been expected to easily win re-election on Oct. 5. And now, the world is scrambling to find out more about the environmental activist who could yet be Brazil’s next president.

Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima was born on Feb. 8 1958 in the tiny forest community of Breu Velho in Brazil’s remote Acre state, in the Amazon. Her parents had eleven children, three of whom died. She grew up among desperately poor, illiterate rubber tappers, dreamed of becoming a nun, and only learnt to read as a teenager.

Marina – as she is known in Brazil – lost her mother at 15 and has suffered constant health problems – she survived five malaria bouts, hepatitis and a heavy metal poisoning which was probably caused by treatment for leishmaniasis, a disease spread by sandflies. “She has been close to death so many times,” said Cesar.

Her humble background gives her impeccable credentials for the millions of lower income Brazilians who voted for Rousseff’s predecessor, mentor and fellow PT member, the charismatic Luiz Inácio da Silva, or Lula. Millions advanced to a new lower middle class during 12 years of PT rule.

Silva’s name was chanted by some of the 130,000 mourners who turned out for Eduardo Campos’s requiem and funeral on Sunday in Recife, capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco he ran as governor for eight years. Rousseff, Lula and Neves all attended.

A clearly emotional Silva, who almost joined Campos on the ill-fated plane journey, was highly visible throughout the service, and spent much of it hand in hand with Campos’s widow, Renata. Replacing Campos on the PSB ticket was not an easy decision for her, said João Paulo Capobianco, a biologist and former deputy minister to Silva at Brazil’s Environment Ministry, who was with Silva in Recife.

“She suffered a lot with this process,” he said. “She is aware of her responsibility. As it was the wish of everyone, of Eduardo, of the family, she ended up accepting.”

Silva’s political career began in environmental activism. A history graduate and adherent of left wing, Catholic ‘Liberation Theology’ Silva became active in the rubber tappers union alongside Chico Mendes, an iconic unionist and environmentalist who was murdered in 1988. Both participated in direct actions against deforestation. She joined the nascent PT, became a state deputy in 1990, and Brazil’s youngest-ever senator in 1994, at just 36.

As Lula’s Environment Minister from 2003-2008 she was behind a multi-ministry Action Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation that led to a 57% decrease in just three years and which won her the Norwegian Sophie Prize for environment and sustainable development in 2009. Silva tried to set up her own Sustainability Network party to fight this election, and when that failed accepted a role as Campos’s running mate.

“She is a very objective person and very transparent in her ideas. And she has an enormous capacity to attract collaborators,” said Capobianco, who now runs the Institute of Democracy and Sustainability think-tank.

Although Neves, the center-right candidate, would be first choice for a Brazilian business community increasingly concerned by the country’s low growth and high inflation, Campos had won ground promising long-term inflation targets and an independent central bank. He also made friends with Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, a key motor in the country’s stumbling economy. “What we have on record is actually pretty good from a market perspective,” said Volpon, head of Emerging Market Research Americas at the Nomura Bank in New York.

But “ruralists” distrust Silva and her sustainable development agenda. “Marina Silva has never been able to be clear about her sustainable development in relation to agricultural production. We do not understand how she plans to do this,” said Senator Kátia Abreu, expected to be re-elected president of the powerful National Agriculture and Livestock Confederation in October. “It is one thing to be an activist, another to be a president with a more realistic agenda.”

That distrust may be eased by the choice of Beto Albuquerque, a federal deputy with links to Brazil’s agribusiness, to be Silva’s running mate. Having a more business-friendly name on the ticket will free her up to run as a more populist, “third way” candidate.

And it’s that appearance of being something new, and different, that makes Silva a genuine threat to Roussoff in October’s election. Many in Brazil are looking for a leader who is something more than the cynical career politicians the country is sick of, according to Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles, who directed City of God and The Constant Gardener.

“The big difference between Marina and the majority of politicians is that she puts her ideas and her program for the country in front of her political career or party interests,” he said.

TIME brazil

Death of Presidential Candidate Shocks Brazil

Brazilian presidential candidate killed in plane crash
Eduardo Campos, presidential candidate of the Brazilian Socialist Party, during an event in Brasília on Oct. 5, 2013 Fernando Bizerra Jr.—EPA

“The campaign has now gone into limbo”

Brazil was thrown into mourning Wednesday by the unexpected death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash. The popular former governor of Pernambuco State in northeast Brazil’s was just 49 and his death threw October’s election wide open.

“The whole of Brazil is in mourning. Today we lost a great Brazilian,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement on the loss of her presidential rival — a former member of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s left-wing Workers’ Party’s coalition government. Lula and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) have run Brazil since winning in 2002.

Campos and six others were killed when the small Cessna plane they were traveling in from Rio de Janeiro to an event in Guarujá on the São Paulo state’s coast crashed in port town Santos after hitting bad weather, the Brazilian air force said in a statement.

His death sent shock waves throughout Brazil. Brazilians posted tributes on social media and the hashtag #RIPEduardoCampos was trending on Twitter.

“It is a huge loss for Brazil,” said André Singer, political scientist at the University of São Paulo and former press secretary for ex-President Lula. “Everyone is very shocked.”

Rousseff is currently leading the pack for re-election in October, with 38% according to the most recent poll. Campos, the candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) was in third place with 9% and seen as a “third way” politician with business credentials who believed in private investment but also invested in education and health.

Both Rousseff and Aécio Neves — the candidate for the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who, at 23%, was second in the recent poll — canceled campaigning Wednesday out of respect.

“The campaign has now gone into limbo,” says David Fleischer, professor of political science at the University of Brasília.

Campos first became a state deputy for the PSB in 1990. He won two terms as governor of Pernambuco state, in 2006 and 2010, presiding over an economic boom and major infrastructure projects. Under him, Pernambuco’s GPD grew an average of 4.9% from 2007 to 2013, compared with Brazil’s 3.5%, according to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

He was also heir to a political dynasty. His grandfather Miguel Arraes, who died on the same day in 2005, was a three-time governor of Pernambuco and was exiled during Brazil’s military dictatorship.

On Tuesday night, Campos was interviewed live on TV Globo’s nightly television news program Jornal Nacional. Now the expectation is that his running mate Marina Silva, a former Environment Minister who came in third in the 2010 election as Green Party candidate, will take his place. Silva had almost taken the same plane.

“I think she will be candidate. It is early to say what place she will occupy,” says Fernando Abrucio, a political scientist from the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “In the northeast she won’t have the same votes,” Abrucio adds. “In the big urban centers she has more popular support than Campos.”

Abrucio says Silva is more likely to pick up the “protest” vote among young, more educated Brazilians who flooded onto the streets in mass demonstrations in June 2013. “A part could go to Marina, there is no doubt,” he says.

Campos had been wooing Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, which distrusts Silva. “If she becomes the candidate, she is definitely going to insert the whole question of sustainability and the environment into the campaign,” Fleischer says.

Silva is an evangelical Christian, which helped her pick up almost 20 million votes in 2010. But this time Brazil’s expanding evangelical Christian population has its own candidate, Everaldo Dias Pereira, popularly known as Pastor Everaldo, currently in fourth place with 3%.

Abrucio says Campos’ main legacy is likely to be regional; his loss nationally will be felt more in what he could have achieved. “He was 49, he was not part of the generation that took part in the process of redemocratization in Brazil, like Lula and [former President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso,” he says. Two decades of military dictatorship ended in 1985.

“They did their job and we were starting a new cycle,” Abrucio adds. “He was a transitional politician.”

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