Rouseff returns, faces multiple challenges

Rouseff returns, faces multiple challenges

Dilma Rousseff has returned to power as Brazil’s President for a second consecutive term. Despite rampant corruption, poor public services and slow economic growth – the growth rate during her first term averaged at about 1.5 per cent between 2011 and 2014, dipping close to zero this year – Rousseff managed to pip her rival at the post thanks to the popularity of her government’s welfare programmes among the poor.

 Massive street protests last year over rising cost of public transport and government spending on the World Cup laid bare mounting public anger against her government. Yet, Rousseff bounced back to win the election. It is evident that while exercising their franchise, voters looked back at the 12-year record of the centre-left Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT) to which Rousseff belongs. Its economic policies brought around 40 million Brazilians out of poverty and Rousseff benefited from their support.  

The election campaign was vitriolic and the result was close; Rousseff captured 51.6 per cent of the votes to the 48.4 per cent that her rival, the centre-right Aecio Neve of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (BSDP) received. Now, as she begins her second term, she faces the challenge of governing a country that is deeply polarised along the lines of social class and geography. Rousseff rode to power on support from the more impoverished northern states while Neve won votes in the more prosperous southern Brazil. She has done well to recognise the implications of this polarisation and in her acceptance speech spoke about the need for unity, dialogue and consensus.   

Rousseff faces multiple challenges in her second term. Besides uniting a divided country, she has to revive its stagnant economy, which will require assuaging the fears of investors.  There is the problem of rampant corruption too which has not only eroded the PT’s pro-poor image but also made daily life difficult for the average Brazilian.

 Her actions on corruption will be closely watched as she herself stands accused of benefiting from kickbacks at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant. Although she vehemently denied these allegations, the opposition can be expected to keep up the heat on her and will push for a probe.

There is the issue of political reforms too, especially the ending of election campaign financing by private companies, which Rousseff has promised. But will she be able to push through the reforms in the face of resistance from law makers? Her weak mandate will limit her ability to pull resisting legislators on board her agenda.