On October 31st more than 135 million voters went to the polls in Brazil to elect their next president. They chose a career technocrat named Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Worker's Party (PT), who was the hand-picked successor of Brazil's current president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula).
The vote was a run-off between Rousseff and José Serra of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), who were the top two vote-getters in Brazil's October 3rd general election. And Rousseff won decisively in the second round, claiming 56 million votes—fully 12 million more than her opponent.
The general election also included contests for all 513 members of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the Federal Senate seats, as well as governors and representatives in all 26 state legislatures and the Federal District.
It was thus a big election, and an historic one. Brazilians elected not only their first female president, but they did so at a time of strong growth and prosperity, with little of the economic volatility that has until recently surrounded presidential elections in Brazil. At the same time, the elections indicate that peaceful, civilian democracy—which returned to Brazil only in 1985 after long stretches of political unrest and military rule in the 19th and 20th centuries—is hopefully here to stay.
The direction in which Brazil's new president takes her country is deeply consequential not only for that nation of 190 million, but also for global geopolitics. In a matter of just two decades, Brazil has gone from long being a perennial economic laggard—mired in high inflation and slow growth that won it the moniker of Latin America's "sleeping giant" for its vast unrealized potential—to now being the eighth largest economy in the world, a major exporter of oil to the United States, and an ever more important player in hemispheric and global politics.
Recent years have seen Brazil take on an ever bolder international profile, a trend that is unlikely to change under the next administration. Brazil currently holds a two-year nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and is lobbying vigorously to assume a permanent seat.
Brazil is also poised to bypass Venezuela as the hemisphere's major oil exporter; and with an economy larger than those of India and Russia, and with nearly two times the per-capita income of China, Brazil is on track to become a major force in the global economy.
How Things Change
One of the most striking features of Brazil's 2010 election is the economic stability and strong growth that surrounded it. The Brazilian economy is expected to grow at a rate of 7% this year, and it was among the first emerging market economies to recover from the global recession.
As recently as the early 1990s, however, Brazil remained engulfed in decades-long economic tumult with prices rising at a rate of 80% per month. At that rate, a sandwich that cost $1 in January would cost $1,000 by year's end. Inflation had long cast a heavy pall over Brazil's economy, dampening private investment and deepening poverty and inequality.
It was only in 1994 that Brazil's so-called "inflationary disease" was finally cured by a team of academic economists who introduced a new currency, the Real, which achieved the long-elusive goal of stability and credibility.
The quelling of inflation did not solve all of Brazil's economic problems, however, for the country remained heavily indebted and dependent on foreign inflows of capital – vulnerabilities that were laid bare in the run-up to the 2002 general election.
That election pitted José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) against Lula of the PT, in his fourth attempt to win the presidency. Lula's campaign was bolstered by a sense of exhaustion after eight years of difficult structural reform in Brazil's economy.