BOGOTA — Since the tragic Aug. 13 death of Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, Brazil's general election outlook has shifted.
The October election comes amid growing dissatisfaction with the political parties and their traditions of patronage, especially among the country's young voters. There has been a vigorous campaign in favor of abstention or casting blank votes, and it seems as if the generation that fought the country's dictatorship in the 1970s and forged its transition to democracy has come to the end of the line.
As polarization grew between President Dilma Rousseff's supporters and opponents alienated by politics, Campos led the United for Brazil coalition and represented a new kind of leadership for the generation born after 1964. They hoped to restore the dream of freedom, accompanied by economic stability. They saw that dream come closer when Lula da Silva became president and vowed to fight hunger and reduce Brazil's vulnerability.
"We cannot give up on Brazil," Campos told Globo TV in the last interview before his death. Now, on the eve of these decisive elections, environmental activist Marina Silva has become his successor as the Socialist candidate, though she was previously seen as nothing more than his running mate of convenience. Just after his death, polls showed Silva with support from 20% of voters — much higher than where Campos was polling at the time of his death, and only one point below Aécio Neves, a third presidential candidate who is runner-up to Rousseff in the polls.
While polls show the sitting president as the favorite with support from 40% of voters, and likely to win in the second round, the elections will nevertheless reflect a country divided around the visions of the two parties that have been the political protagonists in recent decades: Neves' Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB) and Rousseff's Workers Party (PT).
The decisive voting states will be Minas Gerais, from which Neves and Rousseff come, and São Paulo, the most important voting region for the PSDB. Brazil's northeast, where the PT's social policies are more evident, will also play an important part.
It is true, as Campos said, that voters cannot give up on Brazil. But right now, there is little to inspire voters in the Workers Party and its plans for holding onto power, or in Neves and a PSDB that has no clear program. The country desperately needs light at the end of its tunnel — and Campos may have been that light. Brazil, meanwhile, faces a menu of unresolved political issues: a pragmatic Left that began on the streets and has now moved far from the people, an obsolete political center, and the Right, which is reorganizing itself around Marina Silva.