Will Brazil humiliation cost Dilma Rousseff the presidency?

Jul 11, 2014

Brazil's failure to win the World Cup could have implications for the president's re-election


The horror of Brazil's 7-1 thrashing by Germany will haunt the country's football fans for years to come, but it could also affect the President Dilma Rousseff's prospects for re-election in October.

Critics of Rousseff are suggesting that the national squad's humiliation could make her a one-term president as Brazilians struggle to accept their team's loss. As a result, old grudges against the leader and her policies are on the boil again.

Why is Rousseff unpopular?

Rousseff's administration has faced economic and social challenges since her election in 2010. The International Business Times reports that growth of the country's economy has stalled due to "stubbornly high inflation, which has remained above the 4.5 per cent target through Rousseff's tenure". There have also been "allegations of corruption at Petrobras, a state-controlled oil giant, which is set to face a congressional inquiry".

In the midst of these troubles, the government has been funnelling money into preparations for the World Cup. The Guardian says that Brazilians have criticised Rousseff for spending more "than $10bn (£6bn) ... that could have been used to improve public health, education and transport".

As a result, Brazil's big cities have been plagued by assorted protests since 2013. According to the IBT, demonstrations have targeted "increased bus fares...police brutality, government corruption and overspending".

What were the president's goals for the tournament?

Daily Telegraph columnist Jim White suggests that Rousseff went into the World Cup with two main aims: to present "Brazil as a modern, thrusting, ready-to-do-business economy" and, quite simply, to win the competition.

"Winning the trophy...became the sole imperative," says White. "Sure, it may have cost money, was the insistence from those in charge, but hey, it will be worth it when we’re all dancing round Rio with the cup."

But with the tournament producing neither "tangible economic benefit" nor a "sixth star...on the national jersey", blame is being heaped upon "politicians who had staked so much on this project".

Was there an immediate reaction against Rousseff after the match?

President Rousseff did not attend Tuesday's semi-final, but according to Forbes, she was the target for fan rage at the Belo Horizonte stadium.

Shortly after the score reached 5-0 to the Germans, disgruntled supporters at the pitch chanted, "Hey, Dilma, go get ****ed" for three minutes. The Guardian said there were also "small outbreaks of unrest, including flag burning and arson attacks on buses in São Paulo".

Rousseff attempted to console her nation via Twitter after the match, writing, "I feel immensely for all of us, supporters and players...I am very, very saddened by the defeat."

Counter-intuitively, Bloomberg reported a climb in Brazilian stock prices the following day, resulting from optimism among traders hoping for a Rousseff defeat in October.

Where do the polls stand now?

In a survey conducted by Brazilian poll group Ibope before the match, Rousseff's approval rating stood at 44 per cent. While the IBT asserts that she maintains leads over rival candidates Eduardo Campos and Aecio Neves, her diminished ratings "make defeat a definite possibility in October", the paper says.

But other political insiders suggest that the national humiliation will not cost Rousseff in the election. Political analyst Augusto de Castro Neves said that the defeat would have "a short-term impact" but that "Dilma's bigger worry is the economy".

In The Guardian, political science professor David Fleischer cited the examples of the World Cups of 1998, 2006 and 2010, all of which ended in Brazilian losses and had no impact on political contests.

"I don't think that the loss will have any effect on the October election," he said. "But it is possible there will be more violent demonstrations in the coming days."

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