“I am definitely not going back to Brazil upon graduation.” I told my roommate after one of the most nerve-wracking hours of my life. Like roughly 48% of Brazilians, I had nervously waited for the results of Brazil’s 2014 presidential election in the hopes that the candidate that I was endorsing, Mr. Aecio Neves, would win. By about 8.10pm local time in the capital, Brasilia, however, it was indisputable that our incumbent President, Ms. Dilma Rouseff of the Worker’s Party (PT), had been re-elected. My Facebook homepage suggested that many of my acquaintances shared my bitter thoughts and feelings. Those that study or live abroad posted comments about being thankful that they no longer lived in Brazil. A slogan started to gain prominence; it said: “Brazil: a country without a future.”

We, Brazilians who voted for Mr. Neves and, by extension, against the Worker’s Party, have every right to be disappointed, ashamed and enraged. The Worker’s Party has held office for 12 years in Brazil, capitalizing on the impressive growth period and steep fall in poverty seen under the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Ms. Rouseff’s predecessor and mentor. Yet, during Ms Rouseff’s four-year term expectations surrounding Brazil’s huge potential have been grossly unfulfilled. Ms. Rouseff’s interventionism, irresponsible macroeconomic policy and inability to tackle Brazil’s poor public services, impeditive bureaucracy and punitive tax system have led to a stalled economy and minimal social progress. To make matters worse, Ms. Rouseff’s government is tainted by corruption scandals characterized by bribery and money-laundering schemes. In June 2013, Brazilians had enough.  They took to the streets to protest against precarious public services, rising prices and political corruption. Claiming that the “the giant had awoken”, these millions of Brazilians seemed to jeopardize Ms. Rouseff’s re-election. In a dramatic and surprising turn of events, the results of the first-round of the presidential elections called for a second one, with Mr. Aecio Neves of the center-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) capturing almost 35% of the votes.

For the first time in years, those that were tired of the Worker’s Party mismanagement and corruption schemes felt that they had a shot at electoral victory. Mr. Neves, whose platform promised to simplify the tax system, to cut down red tape by reducing the number of ministries, to boost foreign investment and to adopt sound market-friendly policies, seemed to be gaining momentum. On the runoff, polls indicated a possibility of victory. In addition, allegations of corruption linking Ms. Rouseff’s government to a bribery scandal in Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, began to surface. Three days before the election date, the magazine Veja published an article revealing Ms. Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s involvement in an alleged bribes-for-votes scheme at Petrobras. Mr. Neves also rightly emphasized that Ms. Rouseff had had the chance to deliver the quality public services that she had promised and had failed to do so. Meanwhile, Ms. Rouseff continually alleged: “the inflation is under control” – a statement that has become a source of mockery among Brazilians, whose rising cost of living implies a different reality from the one that the President seems to be living in.

Seemingly, whether one endorsed Mr. Neves or not, the Worker’s Party inability to address the problems that have been plaguing Brazil and its involvement in corruption schemes are facts that can only be denied by those who refuse to acknowledge reality. In this context, upon seeing their incumbent President re-elected, the Brazilians who had so vigorously hoped for change, seem to have lost all hope in their country. They, like me, are enraged and ashamed at the ballot’s inability to reflect a willingness to mitigate the down spiral that our country currently finds itself in. Instead, the electoral result seems to indicate that despite overwhelming corruption and poor economic growth, the majority of Brazilians are still subject to the Worker’s Party clientelist politics and afraid of change.

Yet, upon further consideration, I began to look at the electoral outcome from a different perspective. Once my initial rage had died down, I realized that it further compelled me to return to Brazil and fight for change. As far as I can remember, Brazilian electoral behavior has been divided along class lines. The Worker’s Party, apt at flashing the “Bolsa Familia” federal social welfare program of cash transfers as exclusively theirs, has historically appealed to lower income groups. Indeed, by painting Mr. Neves as the pawn of the rich, Ms. Rouseff exploited this. To some extent, she succeeded, apparently convincing much of Northeastern population that Mr. Neves would curtail the cash transfer social program if elected (a false accusation, given Mr. Neves’ stated commitment to continuing current programs). On the other hand, however, Mr. Neves’ stronger-than-expected showing suggests that a larger than ever share of Brazilians was able to see beyond the Worker’s Party electoral terrorism. In many ways, the numbers indicate that, despite the Northeast’s allegiance to the Worker’s Party, support for Mr. Neves broke through class divisions. Both the rich and poor of Brazil called for change. Today, the percentage of this people did not come close enough to amass electoral victory, but it came alarmingly close.

It may seem naïve and idealistic to see hope in such a disappointing turn of events, but the alternative is bleak and unproductive. Claiming, as some currently do, that Brazil is mostly compromised of an ignorant population that deserves its discouraging fate or moving from Brazil at such a trying time fosters a self-perpetuating culture of acceptance and resignation. It undermines the fact that this election has already seen a great leap forward in terms of political consciousness and awareness. Most importantly, it undermines our capacity to promote change and empowers the class of corrupt and incapable politicians that currently plagues our government. Those that quoted that “Brazil: a country without a future” claim that it will never be a great nation as long as 52% of the population votes for corruption, precarious education and health care and violence by supporting the current government. Indeed, that is probably true. But that does not mean that our country does not have a promising future, but, rather that it is up to us, my generation, to make sure that our population is well informed and equipped to vote consciously. In my 21 years of life I have been lucky enough to come across innumerous politicized, intelligent and educated Brazilians from different social backgrounds and with very different life stories. Some study abroad and some in Brazil. It is disheartening to see so many of them disillusioned with our country and demotivated to the point of wanting to escape from it or not partake in its future.

I do not know what lies in store for Brazil’s future, but I know that my generation can help decide it. Instead of exporting our talents abroad or shielding away from politics, we should find courage in this moment and now, more than ever before, awake a political conscience within us. Let us capitalize on social media and mobilize public support to hold our government to its promises, let us expose its shortcomings and, most importantly, let’s reach out to those that fail to realize that they deserve more than social programs from their government: they deserve quality public services, security, accountability and transparency.  Despite the disappointing overall result, yesterday’s election also shows that there is hope for tomorrow. My hope lies in my generation and I call out to it asking that it “not let Brazil go”.

 

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