Silva Lining as Marina joins Socialist Party

Presidential candidate in 2010 unable to register her new party, but hopes to re-launch political aspirations and collaborate in taking PSB to power after joining party led by Eduardo Campos.

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Marina Silva, the popular Brazilian ecologist and former environment minister and presidential candidate, has joined the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB – Socialist Party). She made the announcement after the country’s electoral court blocked the registration of her new party Rede Sustentabilidade (Rede – Sustainability Network) for next year’s elections, since she had been unable to collect the minimum number of signatures required for a party to be registered by a deadline of one year before the election (to be held on 5 October 2014). Silva served as Minister for the Environment for much of former President Lula da Silva’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT – Workers’ Party) government between 2003 and 2010, before leaving the PT over ideological differences and running for President in 2010 as the candidate for the Partido Verde (PV – Green Party), capturing nearly 20% of the vote. She has recently been polling at up to 26% of the voting intention for next year’s presidential election, second only to current President Dilma Rousseff (PT).

The move came as something of a surprise, although Silva’s hands were tied somewhat by the fact that she had been unable to register Rede with the electoral authorities. In a joint press conference formally announcing her affiliation with the PSB, Silva appeared to give her backing to the party’s current leader Eduardo Campos, saying “I arrive at a party with its own candidate”. Campos has held presidential aspirations for some time, and is currently serving as governor of the north-eastern state of Pernambuco. While voting intention polls show him as having just 4-5% support nationally, this is likely due to his relatively unknown status in the centre and south of the country, since he is immensely popular in his home state and surrounding areas. The PSB was until last month part of the governing coalition of President Rousseff, but recently announced it was to leave government in order to concentrate on mounting its own electoral challenge in 2014.

Marina Silva and Eduardo Campos. Photo courtesy of Infolatam

However, in the last few days Silva has backtracked slightly, suggesting that she could still run for President next year, although at this stage it is not clear how serious a possibility this is, or whether she would run as an independent candidate or challenge Campos for the PSB ticket. There is also the possibility that she could act as Campos’ running mate in a bid for the vice-presidency. However she said that for now her priority was not to decide definitively on her candidacy, but to make sure that her new alliance with the PSB and its political programme prosper. The PSB said today (11 October) that it will announce its candidate next year, meaning that there is still time for the party, and Campos and Silva, to establish its exact electoral challenge.

Commentators in Brazil have suggested that Silva’s decision to join the PSB, and possibly rule herself out of the running for President, could prove a significant boost to Dilma Rousseff’s chances of being reelected in 2014. Her approval ratings are on the rise again, having suffered a dramatic collapse in the wake of the widespread protests that shook the country in June. Silva’s stock rose even further in the immediate aftermath of the demonstrations after she sided with the protesters, who generally held a considerably favourable view of her. She labelled the social movements as a “movement of great beauty” with the potential to change the country, and she pledged to work to answer their demands on living costs, public services, institutional corruption and the widespread disillusion with Brazil’s political system.

In fact, it could be seen as something of a surprise, given her popularity and her success at the previous elections, that she was unable to collect the 560,000 signatures required to register Rede with the electoral authorities. She will now hope that being welcomed into the fold of the PSB will mean that her aspirations to change Brazilian politics and society will not founder.

However, combining her personal popularity with that of Campos and the political organisation offered by the PSB in order to create a lean, mean, green political machine will not be so simple. Silva has already recognised that her joining forces with the PSB does not simply imply a “transfer of votes” from her to Campos, stating in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo that votes belong to the elector, not the candidate. In terms of her aspirations to build a political alternative to the PT based on social and environmental justice and a deepening of social and democratic rights, a strategy that stems from her split from the PT in 2009 and her candidacy in 2010, she also said “We need to convince people that this proposal is good for Brazil, or they else won’t give us their vote just because Marina tells them to vote for Eduardo”.

Marina Silva. Photo courtesy of Infolatam

Silva, who grew up in the western state of Acre in the Amazon rainforest, made a name for herself as Minister for the Environment between 2003 and 2008 under Lula da Silva, earning the praise of environmental groups for her emphasis on conservation of the Amazon. She is credited with bringing a more sustainable element to Brazil’s approach to its rainforest, and from 2003 the rates of deforestation in the Amazon began to fall. However, her stance got her into hot water with other ministers and business leaders, who accused her of preventing numerous development projects on environmental grounds, which they claimed damaged Brazil’s economic performance. In particular, she was strongly opposed to government plans to expand its portfolio of Amazon hydroelectric dams, which were seen as a crucial step to boost Brazil’s productivity and allow it to compete with other emerging world powers such as Russia, India and China (those three countries, plus Brazil and South Africa, make up the BRICS community of emerging economies).

Eventually, she resigned, citing the tensions that had begun to arise from the conflict between economic growth at all costs, pursued by Lula and other ministers, and conservation and sustainable development. At the time of her departure from the PT, she said that she was attempting to break with the idea of “development based on material growth at any cost, with huge gains for a few and perverse results for the majority” including “the destruction of natural resources”. She would go on to represent the PV at the 2010 presidential election, earning 19% of the vote, and thus playing a big part in Dilma Rousseff’s failure to seal victory in the first round of the election. Yet far from Silva’s support being confined to the northern and Amazonian parts of the country, she also came second in Rio de Janeiro with more than 31% of the vote.

If she can keep up this level of support in the southern urban areas of Brazil as well as across the country, which recent evidence suggests she may well be able to do, she could very well reap the rewards. Whether this will be through her own candidacy next October, or through boosting Campos’ popularity outside of his north-east stronghold and thereby mounting a serious challenge to Rousseff, time will tell. But her recent standing in polls, the media coverage surrounding her affiliation into what is still essentially a small party in the Brazilian political scene, and her selection as one of eight people to carry the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony in London last year – which rankled with some sections of the PT government, particularly given that Brazil will, in Rio de Janeiro, be hosting the next Games in 2016 – prove that Marina Silva remains a big name in the current and future state of Brazilian politics.