Close, but No Cigar for Dilma: Brazil Headed for Runoff

By David Schreiner

Dilma Rousseff, heir apparent of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won Sunday's election but fell a few points short of the majority vote needed to avoid a second round. She faces José Serra in an October 31 runoff and remains the favorite.

Updated October 4 - Dilma Rousseff, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s hand-picked successor, took a wide lead in Sunday's election but fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. The Workers' Party (PT) candidate won 46.91 percent of ballots against the 33.13 percent pulled in by her top opponent, José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PDSB). But it was Marina Silva of the Green Party (PV) who stole the show, who, at 19.33 percent, attracted a larger chunk of votes than predicted. Rousseff may have lost an outright win because of the few points that went in Silva's favor coupled with fallout from a scandal involving Lula’s chief of staff’s son and accusations of bribery that emerged three weeks before the election. Now Rousseff is the favorite when she faces Serra for the second round vote on October 31, but which way Silva's votes fall could affect the outcome. "As the gloves come off in what could prove a gruelling four-week campaign, voters will also likely see the candidates thrash out, for the first time, their different visions of Brazil’s future," write John Paul Rathbone and Jonathan Wheatley in the Financial Times, labeling Silva a "kingmaker." As the poll leader, Dilma could face questions about her qualifications and Lula’s potential role in her government.

Rousseff’s rapid political trajectory has been tied to Lula since she joined his cabinet in 2002 as energy minister and then as his chief of staff. Although she never ran for office before, the PT candidate garnered widespread support from Lula’s endorsement. She campaigned on the promise of offering a continuation of Lula’s policies and reinforced this continuity by hinting that her cabinet would include Edison Lobão, current senator and former energy minister; Antonio Palocci, Lula’s finance minister; and Luciano Coutinho, the president of Brazil’s national development bank. At an AS/COA panel, Director of the Brazil Institute Paulo Sotero explained that these choices would lend Rousseff credibility and help her navigate the complexities of coalition politics.

PDSB candidate José Serra’s established an early lead in the race. Serra governed the state of São Paulo until 2010, previously served as mayor of the city of São Paulo, and held positions as a congressman and senator. But Rousseff pulled ahead of the paulista politician when PT advertisements cemented her connection with Lula in the public’s eye. Since that time, neither his credentials nor his criticisms of the Lula administration has proven sufficient for Serra overcome the promise of continuity offered by Rousseff. The PDSB argues that Lula will continue to hold sway during the next administration by influencing his protégé. Managing a coalition government in Brazil’s fragmented political society could present a major challenge for Rousseff, regardless of her acumen handling a corruption scandal that implicated members of Lula’s cabinet in 2005. But Lula has said the issue will not be “the competence of the president but of the parliamentarians,” and that he wants to direct his efforts “through the PT and with other parties,” not via the presidency.

But what may prove crucial to the candidates is the ability to woo followers of the third-party candidate. Arthur Ituassu of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio writes in openDemocracy: “The fact that Rousseff is a woman both gives her added recognition and links her ‘novelty’ very strongly to Lula’s own political identity as a changemaker.” If so, Silva may have had the gender card working in her favor as well. The PV candidate served as environment minister under Lula and made protection of the Amazon central to her campaign. Even though Dilma pulled in 14 percent more votes than her rival Serra, Silva attracted one-fifth of all ballots and its her supporters who could play a major role in who takes office come January. She'll decide which candidate to support based on a vote by her party's members.

Learn more:

  • Read an AS/COA Hemispheric Update on the race, including profiles of Rousseff, Serra, as well as Green Party candidate Marina Silva.
  • View a video of the AS/COA election outlook discussion panel.
  • Access first-round results on the website of Brazil's electoral tribunal.
  • Folha de São Paulo newspaper election page.
  • Interactive election results from O Globo, including state-by-state vote tallies.
  • Read a University of Pennsylvania Universia@Wharton analysis of Lula’s political legacy.
  • Visualization of Twitter chatter about the candidates, created by JWT and Zauber.
  • BBC image gallery showing the election in pictures.