Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has adopted a more combative re-election campaign strategy after opinion polls showed her trailing popular environmentalist candidate Marina Silva. Two election surveys this week showed Rousseff was the frontrunner in the first round ballot scheduled for October 5, but would lose to Silva, a former environment minister, in a likely runoff.
The trusted polling firm Ibope said the incumbent was on track to claim 37% of votes compared to Silva’s 33% support in the first round. Datafolha, another polling company, showed Rousseff would win 35% of votes to Silva’s 34%. But according to election forecasts by both Ibope and Datafolha, Rousseff would then lose to Silva in the second round of the elections on October 23.
Brazilian media reported that Rousseff, 66, has gone on the offensive in recent days, bent on chipping away at Silva’s second-round advantage. Rousseff aimed a volley of attacks at Silva, 56, on Monday night, during the second televised debate of the presidential race.
The incumbent questioned her rival's ability to pay for her myriad campaign promises, including all-day public schools, while at the same time moving away from oil production.
With Silva now incarnating the movement for political change in Brazil, traditionally the banner of Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party (PT), Rousseff has started suggesting she would do things differently if entrusted with a second term as president.
“Obviously if there is a new administration… new politics and a new team would be necessary,” Rousseff reportedly told a meeting of business leaders in the city of Belo Horizonte on Wednesday. “What I don’t want to do is give the impression that I think everything has been accomplished.”
Her campaign team has also petitioned Brazilian election authorities to open an investigation into Silva’s finances, claiming she has omitted income from several public speaking engagements in documents filed with the election body.
Rousseff’s campaign claimed there were inconsistencies between Silva's reported income and the earnings of a business she owns, according to the leading Folha de Sao Paulo daily.
Rousseff has seen her approval ratings plummet in recent months, leading many to wonder whether the Workers Party will be swept aside after 12 years in power.
The Brazilian national team’s disappointing performance at the World Cup has been touted as one of the reasons for her sudden drop in popularity. But perhaps the biggest blow came with news that the country’s economy had slipped into recession this year.
Meanwhile, Silva appears to be surfing on a wave of sympathy for her Socialist Party after the shocking death of its presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash on August 13.
Silva, who split with the PT in 2009, became the Socialist Party’s new candidate following the tragedy, and saw her approval ratings skyrocket overnight. It remains to be seen whether she can maintain that momentum as the election campaign enters the final stretch.