Let's talk Latin America

Rousseff vs. Neves in a post-World Cup penalty shootout

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With the Brazilian presidential elections due to take place this Sunday 26th, Freddy Hare discusses the impact the 2014 Brazil World Cup may have had on President Dilma Rousseff’s chances.

Sport and politics are intrinsically linked, especially in Latin America. A lecturer of mine, Dr Matthew Brown, wrote an article in the Financial Timesback in June in which he stated that if Colombia went on to win the World Cup, a “lasting peace agreement ending decades of civil warfare [would] be signed within in a fortnight”. He also predicted that the election run-off on the 15th of June would be largely influenced by the national team’s opening World Cup game against Greece the day prior. A victory would probably result in Juan Manuel Santos being re-elected whereas a defeat would give Oscar Ivan Zuluaga a far greater chance of success.

We will never know whether his first prediction would have come true (a great shame on both the peace talks and the football fronts) but his second one was spot on: Colombia beat Greece 3-0, the mood of the nation was reflected in the elation of the dancing players in Belo Horizonte, and Santos was duly re-elected.

Brazil’s current elections have also led to a run-off which will be contested this coming Sunday. On 5th October the incumbent – Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) – won 42% of the vote, not enough to prevent a 2nd round against Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), who secured 33.5% of the vote.

The potential political impact of the seleção’s performance at the World Cup was well documented; a disastrous showing and Dilma could forget about being re-elected, especially in light of the protests that overshadowed the Confederations Cup in 2013 and the run up to the World Cup. Huge amounts of public money were syphoned off from health and education for the construction of stadiums and transport systems, and a lack of reason to celebrate would have brought Brazilian morale to a new low.

All of this is hypothetical though. As it happens, Brazil made it through to the semi-finals, aided by some questionable refereeing, brilliant individual performances by Neymar and Thiago Silva, and a population that was 100% behind the team. The 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany, which led to Luis Felipe Scolari being sacked, was quickly forgotten about. A fellow Bristol student and friend of mine, Alex Marrow, has written an article with his rather strong opinions on Brazilian football fans, not all of which I agree with, but it does offer us a valuable insight into the psyche of the “football-obsessed” population.

Brazilians moved on very quickly from the brutal defeat by Germany, and Argentina didn’t win the tournament, two circumstances which may well save Dilma and reward her a second-term. Other factors working in the current President’s favour include the fact that Brazil’s slowing economic growth has not yet started hurting its people’s wallets; her pro-poor policies such as theBolsa Família and Água Para Todos have helped her popularity among the lower classes; and unemployment is at an all-time low.

As I mentioned, Brazil’s growth is starting to slow and Dilma is going to need to address the country’s structural issues, punitive tax system and severe corruption problems. Neves, as The Economist has argued, may be better equipped to do so, but I believe that the World Cup and Dilma’s first term have made the Brazilians keen for changes, rather than a major change.

Image source: http://www.theguardian.com