Within only a few days until the presidential election runoff, emotions are running high among Brazilian voters. Countless rallies supporting both candidates — Aécio Neves, from the center-right Brazilian Social-Democratic Party (PSDB), and incumbent Dilma Roussef, from the center-left Workers’ Party — have taken over Brazil’s major cities in the past weeks.
But some believe the tone of political discourse has taken a hateful turn in the streets and especially on social media, with campaigns bullying rather than debating ideas.
On one side, Neves supporters at rallies hold signs against corruption and express their fear that Brazil is headed toward a Bolivarian dictatorship, “like Venezuela”, they say. On the other, Rousseff's supporters talk of losing Brazil's hard-earned social policies and regressing to the hardship of the 1990s, when PSDB was in charge. The more one side salutes the national flag, the more the other raises the red one. As Brazil approaches its seventh direct elections since it became a democracy, will these two ideological groups ever reconcile?
Just yesterday, in downtown São Paulo some Neves and Rousseff supporters clashed after both groups ran onto each other by chance. And on Tuesday, at São Paulo's PUC University opponents threw coins, cigarettes, plastic cups and other objects at protesters supporting Roussef’s reelection. In a YouTube video, a student is shown saying “the university is not a place for political campaigns” – despite wearing a sticker in support of Aécio Neves’ candidacy.
A first-time presidential candidate and former governor of Brazil’s second most populous state, Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves has tapped a sector of Brazilian society unsatisfied with the Workers’ Party government, who's been in power since 2003. Historically, the Social-Democractic Party has represented conservative sectors of Brazilian's middle and upper classes, as opposed to the Workers’ Party, which had its genesis in the working class.
Poverty, race and privilege
The kind of voter that each party attracts has not only been a cause for much debate, but also ammunition for the campaigns to influence people’s choice.
After the first round, when incumbent Dilma Rousseff finished with 42 percent of the votes, ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), who governed with the Social-Democratic Party and now is a vocal Neves’ supporter, gave an interview to news website UOL saying Rousseff did well in far-flung cities and poor regions because its populations were “less informed”. Some believe this encouraged the xenophobic rants against Brazil’s northerners that followed the first round.
Another ex-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who supports Rousseff, echoed a local community leader's controversial declaration about a potential Neves’ win on Twitter:
“O governo do PSDB significa o genocídio da juventude negra”, Elaine, representante do movimento cultural da periferia #PeriferiaComDilma
— Lula pelo Brasil (@LulapeloBrasil) October 20, 2014
“A PSDB government means the genocide of the black youth population”, Elaine, representative of the outskirts cultural movement. #OutskirtsWithDilma
A young black man responded:
— Passard Chryst (@PChryst) October 20, 2014
I'm black and I vote for Aécio, stop trying to divide Brazilians by color or income, we are all # 45 [PSDB's voting number]
The idea that the poor vote for Rousseff and the powerful and rich vote for Neves has been largely exploited by the Workers’ Party campaign. Earlier this week, they dug up an old interview that Neves gave to a local New Jersey newspaper in 1977, when he was a 17-year-old exchange student in the United States. Under the title “A teen’s life in Rio not much different”, he talked about his life in his home country, saying things like “In Brazil, everyone has two maids, one for cleaning and one for cooking”, or “I have never made my own bed”, statements that the Workers’ Party have used to portray him as an elitist “daddy’s boy”, distant to the reality of most Brazilians.
Is that portrayal so far off? Though he is a vehement supporter of meritocracy, his first job at 19 years old was as an adviser to his own father, who was a federal deputy in the 1970s, and he owes much of his political career to his family. His supporters certainly don't help that negative image: on Thursday, pro-Neves activists joined a rally in São Paulo that The Economist called the “cashmere revolution”. The march took place at Avenida Faria Lima, a major financial hub in the city, and most of its attendees were wearing suits and pashminas, and carrying pricey iPhones. According to the magazine, “the only thing missing was the champagne flutes.”
‘How unpleasant is all this generalization that people are doing?’
In a much shared TV Folha video, featuring activists from both sides, his supporters openly displayed their aversion towards the Workers’ Party. One woman says, “If it were up to me, there would be a military intervention”, while others worship the police. Another girl says she believes the Workers’ Party is the one who creates this hateful environment and that “they’re trying to segregate us, to pit us against each other.”
Rousseff supporters, however, believe the hate is actually directed at them, and mainstream media is to blame. For TV presenters and vloggers PC Siqueira and Diego Quinteiro, media has a crucial role in making people misunderstand left-wing positions. They created a video called #DesçaDoMuro, or “Get out of the middle”, calling on people to openly profess their political opinions even if they seem radical. “And please, don’t start telling us to go to Cuba or North Korea. Listen to what we have to say”, they insist.
Others still call for a more moderate tone, believing that “choosing a team” is harmful. Journalist Gustavo Foster posted on his Facebook:
Como é desagradável essa generalização que muita gente faz. De um lado, “quem estuda não vota na Dilma”; do outro, vídeo engraçadinho tirando eleitor do Aécio para clone da Rachel Sheherazade com deficiência mental. A gente sabe que não é assim. Isso é uma das coisas mais despolitizantes que se pode fazer. Um desserviço à ainda recente e capenga democracia brasileira.
How unpleasant is all this generalization that people are doing? On one side, “people who study don't vote for Dilma”; on the other, funny videos characterizing Aécio's voters as clones of [conservative TV presenter] Rachel Sheherazade. We know it's not like that. This is one of the most depoliticizing things that a person can do. A real disservice to our still recent and broken democracy.
Humorist website Cocadaboa's founder Wagner Martins also proposed a more good-natured debate:
Desafio eleitores do Aécio fazerem um elogio ao governo Dilma. Desafio eleitores da Dilma a falarem uma coisa que seria boa em um governo do Aécio. Vamos ver qual dos dois lados é mais gentil, civilizado e ponderável. E quem são os extremistas. E quem vai se abster. Comentem aí.
I challenge Aécio's voters to make a compliment about Dilma's government. And I challenge Dilma's to say something positive about Aécio's possible government. Let's see which side is more polite, civilized and flexible. And who are the extremists. And who won't say anything. Start commenting.
But his challenge was to absolutely no avail, with most commenters responding with sarcasm, such as “I like when PT steals, I’m pro-corruption”, or “A Neves government will make the shareholders of the company I work for happier”. Perhaps the widely shared @thaisss self-deprecating tweet sums up how many Brazilians feel at the moment:
gente quem perdeu familia ou amigos por causa dessa eleiçao vamo combinar de passar o natal junto
— Thaís (@thaisss) October 17, 2014
Everyone who's lost family and friends because of the elections, let's spend Christmas together