Challenger would change Brazil_s ties with region_s left

Neves, a former state governor and candidate for the pro-business Social Democratic Party, was the big surprise...

Neves, a former state governor and candidate for the pro-business Social Democratic Party, was the big surprise in Sunday_s first-round vote. He shot up from third place in the polls to a second-place finish in Sunday_s election, qualifying him to challenge President Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Workers Party. She received 42 percent of the vote.

The second round is likely to be decided by supporters of defeated opposition candidate Marina Silva, who received 21 percent. Most political analysts agree that Silva won_t back Rousseff in the runoff because she is bitter at the president for having attacked her with unusual harshness during the campaign.

_It is widely expected that Marina (Silva) will make a public statement in support of Aecio (Neves,)_ says Murillo de Aragao, head of Brazil_s Arko political analysis firm. _Dilma Rousseff is in a very difficult situation because 55 percent of Brazilian voters are wanting a change._

In a telephone interview on Monday, Rubens Barbosa, head of the Neves_ campaign foreign policy team, told me that if his candidate wins the runoff election, Brazil will put an end to its foreign policy of the past 12 years, which he defined as based on _ideological affinities_ rather than Brazil_s national interests.

_If Aecio wins, there will be a very big change in Brazil_s foreign policy in the region,_ said Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to Washington. _There will be a total depoliticization of Brazilian policy toward other Latin American countries. We are going to diversify our partnerships with all countries in the region, regardless of their ideologies._

Asked to elaborate, Barbosa said Brazil_s foreign policy, which started under former President Luiz In__cio Lula da Silva, is based on prioritizing ties with members of South America_s Mercosur economic bloc. The regional alliance is made up of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay.

But Brazilian exporters complain that Mercosur has been an obstacle to Brazil_s growth, because it prevents Brazil from individually signing a free trade agreement with the 28-member European Union, or any other non-member country. Mercosur_s rules demand that any free trade deal be negotiated by all Mercosur members countries, and both Argentina and Venezuela oppose such extra-regional negotiations.

Barbosa said that a Neves government would reach out to the European Union, and pro-market economies such as Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Per__ in search of new trade agreements.

If Argentina and Venezuela oppose such extra-regional trade talks, _we would not take any option off the table,_ he said, suggesting that Brazil may team up with Uruguay and Paraguay regardless of Argentina and Venezuela_s opposition.

_We would have a much stronger relation with developed countries, without jeopardizing our ties with developing countries,_ Barbosa said.

He added that _currently, Brazil_s policy is to give an absolute priority to South-South relations, and to put relations with developed countries on a second level. Our program calls for giving the same importance to our ties with developed countries as with developing countries, in order to seek new technologies and innovation in developed countries._

My opinion: This will be a very tight race, in which anything can happen. We can_t rule out that President Rousseff could win the runoff vote despite her mediocre showing in Sunday_s first round. There will be four debates between now and the Oct. 26 vote, and Rousseff_s team has proven to be very effective waging negative campaigns against her opponents.

Also, as happened in Colombia_s recent elections, when President Juan Manuel Santos won the runoff election thanks to voters who had abstained in the first round, Rousseff could still be re-elected if she gets a substantial percentage of the almost 20 percent of voters who abstained in the first round to turn out and vote for her in the second round.

But if pollsters and political pundits are right in interpreting that the key message of Brazil_s first round vote was that 55 percent of Brazilians want a change, and that Neves seems to embody that desire for change, we may indeed see a major change in Brazil_s domestic and foreign policies. We may even see closer ties with the United States, and a change in Latin America_s political map after more than a decade of leftist predominance.


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