By Kaye Adoo
In a historic presidential election four years ago, Brazilians welcomed their first female president, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff ran for re-election on Oct. 5 against 11 candidates, including another woman, environmentalist Marina Silva from the Brazilian Socialist Party. Since no candidate in the presidential election received more than 50 percent of the vote, a second-round runoff was held Oct. 26 to decide if Rousseff or Aecio Neves, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, would be the next president. Both runoff candidates campaigned for Silva’s endorsement and the 21 percent of voters who had supported her, according to Reuters.
The runoff was a battle between two politicians with two opposing visions for Brazil, Reuters reported. The state-led capitalism of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), and the market-friendly policies promised by Neves and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT and PSDB are the nation’s two largest political parties that have governed Brazil for 20 years.
Expectations for Rousseff and a PT victory were high. Rousseff’s past performance as the chief of staff to former President Lula da Silva, and her tenure as president had given her experience in running the executive branch, supporters said. Under her leadership, electricity became accessible in most areas, including many rural areas, through the “Luz Para Todos” (Light for All) program, according to CNN.com.
Rousseff’s leadership also provided an increase in educational attainment levels and moved more Brazilians into the middle class, according to the National Housing Survey and a study by Brazil’s Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which compiles economic and social inclusion statistics. In education, the level of underage children in the workforce (5-13 years) dropped considerably to 10.6 percent. In 2013, the nation experienced 96 percent of its children attending school full-time, the study said.
These numbers are due to a government policy that required poor families to keep their children in school in order to receive federal assistance. As a result of this, Brazil realized its lowest recorded rate of illiteracy, and the number of children aged 4 and 5 years old attending pre-school increased from 78 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2013. Some critics say, however, that the study was conducted only to make Rousseff look good.
Her presidency has also faced other criticism. After Brazil was host to the 2014 World Cup, Rousseff faced strong criticism over the expenditure of public money. Citizens questioning “the morality of pumping so much money into stadiums instead of programs to fight poverty and build infrastructure,” fueled the antigovernment street protests in early 2013. Rousseff defended the spending, saying the funds were allocated to infrastructure projects and not just the soccer event. Other criticisms include allegations of corruption from the government’s purchase of a Texas oil refinery and the management of the nation’s economy by Finance Minister Guido Mantega.
Despite these criticisms, Rousseff’s runoff victory provides Brazilians with hope. Operating under the slogan “New Government, New Ideas,” she promises a better Brazil. After her win, Rousseff’s victory speech urged Brazilians to unite. “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now,” she told her supporters. Rousseff’s victory is historic as she is not only leading the eighth-largest economy in the world, but she is also the president of the wealthiest country in Latin America.
Photograph by Roberto Stuckert Filho, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons