Last night, President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected to Brazil’s presidency in one of the most contested elections in the country’s history.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Rousseff won with 51.57 percent of the vote. Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democratic Party—PSDB) challenger Aécio Neves lost by less than 3 points, with 48.43 percent.
This was the narrowest margin ever registered during a presidential election since the fall of the country’s dictatorship in 1985. Rousseff swept the northern and northeastern states, home to some of the country’s poorest residents. The opposition won in the south and in São Paulo, where more than 20 percent of the voting population lives.
One of the decisive states in the election was Minas Gerais, where both candidates were born, and where Neves served two terms as governor. Despite leaving that office with a 92 percent approval rating in 2010, he lost the state to Rousseff by nearly five points.
It was also one of the most aggressive and divisive campaigns Brazilians ever witnessed.
In her acceptance speech, President Rousseff said establishing a “dialogue” will be her top priority.
“I’m very hopeful this mobilizing energy will help create fertile ground to build bridges,” Rousseff said as she spoke on stage in Brasília with dozens of supporters, including her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “I believe it will be possible to build a common ground.”This came after the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) incumbent and Neves attacked each other during campaign events and televised debates.
During their final debate, which was held last Friday in TV Globo’s Rio de Janeiro studios, the mud was slung directly at Rousseff for her alleged involvement in a massive corruption scandal involving the PT party and the state-run oil giant Petrobras.
The president denied the allegations and accused the publication of acting as a mouthpiece for the opposition.
Rousseff also attacked her challenger, whom she accused of elitism, nepotism and even brought up an incident where he was stopped by police under suspicion of drunk driving.
The smear tactics were reflected in the polls. At least 27 percent of voters abstained or submitted null or blank ballots during Sunday’s election—a high rate, since Brazil operates under a compulsory voting system.
“I am only here because I have to be,” Angela Rosa, a voter from Rio de Janeiro’s Maré neighborhood, said. “Neither one of them is going to do anything to change the problems our country is facing.”
Brazilians like Rosa cited public health care, security and education as their main concerns.
Many also worry about the state of the economy. The country officially entered a recession in August and the value of the Brazilian real, the country’s local currency, has dropped to its lowest exchange rate in nearly 10 years.
“I will promote local actions, especially in the economy, so that we can return to our rhythm of growth and continue with our high employment and keep salaries secure,” Rousseff said.
Rousseff, 66, was a Marxist guerrilla who was tortured during Brazil’s dictatorship. She joined the PT in 2000 and served as Lula’s energy minister in 2003 and chief of staff in 2005.
During its twelve years in power, the PT is credited with helping 40 million people out of poverty. It increased the minimum wage by nearly 84 percent since 2003 after adjusting for inflation, and implemented the conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Familia, which provides a small monthly stipend to poor Brazilians.
“I want to be a better president than I have been up until now,” Rousseff said, as she wrapped up her victory speech.