By Jeferson Ribeiro and Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA Oct 5 Two of Brazil's most popular
opposition leaders joined forces on Saturday in an unexpected
alliance that shakes up next year's election and could pose a
major challenge to President Dilma Rousseff at a time when the
economy is sputtering.
Marina Silva, a colorful former environment minister who was
running second in polls for next year's presidential vote, said
she was setting aside her own presidential ambitions to join the
center-left PSB Party and support its candidate, Pernambuco
state Governor Eduardo Campos.
Their alliance, which came together only in the past 24
hours and was a total shock to Brazil's political establishment,
instantly creates a business-friendly alternative to Rousseff
with nationwide organization, robust financing from donors, and
popularity among rich and poor voters alike.
Campos had been running fourth in most polls, with only
single-digit support. But with Silva's endorsement, and possibly
her as his running mate, he now seems well-positioned to cash in
on growing discontent among the business elite with Brazil's
stagnant economy, as well as popular unrest following a wave of
anti-government street protests in June.
"This isn't more of the same. This is what's new ... what's
surprising," a smiling Silva told a packed news conference in
Brasilia, standing by Campos' side.
Asked if the alliance improves his chances of becoming
president, a confident Campos replied: "I don't think anybody
here has any doubt about that."
Rousseff, a pragmatic leftist, will not be easy to unseat.
While she has not officially announced her candidacy for
re-election in 2014, she currently leads polls by a healthy
margin and has seen her popularity bounce back recently after
taking a huge hit during the protests.
Rousseff retains broad support among Brazil's poor, thanks
to unemployment near record lows and her party's success in
reducing poverty over the past decade. She also has the backing
of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who remains
Brazil's most popular politician.
Marina Silva, who grew up poor in the Amazon and served as
environment minister under Lula, is very popular among younger
Brazilians, environmentally conscious voters and evangelical
Christians. She placed a strong third in the 2010 presidential
election on the Green Party ticket, and had been rising in polls
since the June protests.
However, her bid to create a new political party failed this
week because of legal technicalities, prompting her to turn to
the PSB, the acronym for the Brazilian Socialist Party.
The PSB offers Silva an organized, well-funded party that is
relatively distanced from the corruption accusations that have
plagued other Brazilian political groups, including Rousseff's
Workers' Party, in recent years.
Some senior politicians have said privately that Silva, who
has suffered over the years from health problems including
hepatitis, seemed more comfortable in a "figurehead" role that
would allow her to pursue her passions, including environmental
issues, without worrying about other concerns like the economy.
"ONLY GOD KNEW"
The alliance could prove difficult to maintain, however.
Silva has quit two other parties following disputes over
ideology and organization in the last four years, and it is
unclear how Campos' pro-business agenda will square over time
with Silva's emphasis on the environment and sustainable growth.
Campos is well-regarded by business leaders, and his party
was part of Rousseff's governing coalition until earlier this
year. He broke ranks after criticizing her for excessive
intervention in Brazil's economy, which has struggled with slow
growth since Rousseff took office in early 2011.
The new duo also poses a challenge to the Brazilian Social
Democratic Party (PSDB), which governed Brazil from 1995-2002
and until Saturday was seen as the country's strongest
opposition force. Its likely candidate, Senator Aecio Neves, has
slid backwards in some polls recently and has been stuck in
"Today, we're breaking a false polarization that needs to be
broken in Brazilian politics," Campos said. Referencing the
protests earlier this year, he said "whoever understood what
happened in June will understand what's happening here today."
Beto Albuquerque, the PSB's leader in the house of deputies,
told reporters that Silva had "discussed the possibility" of
being the vice presidential candidate on Campos' ticket.
Paulo Sotero, head of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson
Center in Washington, said the alliance was widely seen as a
"masterstroke" by Campos that effectively turns next year's
Silva gives Campos "legitimacy among leftist and
center-leftist voters" and creates a strong nationwide ticket,
since Campos is strong in Brazil's northeast and Silva is most
popular in the relatively wealthy south and southeast, Sotero
Until Saturday, most political observers had expected Silva
to join a smaller party, and virtually no one had predicted an
alliance with Campos.
Silva said joining the PSB had been one of her backup plans
if her own party failed, but acknowledged the secret was closely
kept. "Only God knew about this," she said.