BRAZIL | Dilma Rousseff under a lucky star

Dilma Rousseff looks unstoppable. How much power will she wield?

THE ECONOMIST

BARRING a political cataclysm, on October 3rd Dilma Rousseff will be elected Brazil’s next president. Thanks to the support of the wildly popular incumbent, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the technocratic 62-year-old is expected to trounce her only serious rival, José Serra of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). She faced a scare when rank-and-file members of her Workers’ Party (PT) were implicated in the unauthorised access of the tax records of Mr Serra’s daughter and his party’s vice-president, among others. But there was no evidence of her own involvement. The latest polls give her over half the vote.

With the outcome of the presidential election looking settled, attention is turning to local and legislative races that will determine the strength of the next government. All the state governorships and seats in the lower house of Congress are up for grabs, as are two-thirds of the Senate.

Lula’s shadow looms over these contests, too. Candidates from the PT and its allies are touting for his endorsement. Even some of Mr Serra’s supposed allies are speaking well of the president while avoiding any mention of their man. Astonishingly, Mr Serra has also tried this himself. Last month he ran ads showing archive footage of the two together. “Serra and Lula, two men of history, two experienced leaders,” ran the voice-over.

The legislative elections are fairly easy to predict. Since the return of democracy in 1985, the PT’s share of federal deputies has tracked its share of party preference, notes Alberto Almeida, a political consultant. The PT now has 79 of the 513 lower-house seats and 10 of 81 in the Senate, and has relied on a big, fractious coalition. If the historical pattern holds, it could win 130 seats in the lower house, and control 390 via its partners. And its coalition would be just a few senators short of the 60% needed to amend the constitution. That would give Ms Rousseff Brazil’s strongest government since the end of dictatorship.

The contests for governor are more complex. Brazilians often vote differently in local and national elections. In São Paulo Mr Serra was a popular mayor and governor. The PSDB’s Geraldo Alckmin, who lost the previous presidential election to Lula, should romp home as its governor.

Moreover, corruption scandals have shaped many races. A new law that bars politicians from running if they face graft accusations may disqualify some candidates. Roseana Sarney, the daughter of a former president and a contender for governor of Maranhão, in the north-east, has had to defend her candidacy in the electoral courts.

Meanwhile, in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state, an alleged overpricing scam involving the state bank may harm the re-election bid of Yeda Crusius, its PSDB governor. On September 2nd police found—and photographed—banknotes of various currencies worth around 3.4m reais ($2m). Such images influence voters more than less photogenic crimes do, says David Fleischer of the University of Brasília. No matter how the state elections play out, however, national politicians in vast, federal Brazil are used to striking deals with governors across party lines.

The biggest constraint on Ms Rousseff’s power may come from within. She only joined the PT in 2001, and did not rise through the party: her candidacy was imposed on it by Lula. Already, the PT’s top coalition partner is talking of the ministries and goodies it expects. With more seats and a weaker leader than its predecessor, the next government may look stronger on paper than it is in practice.

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