Reports from Brazil this week indicate that the presidential candidates’ positions on abortion are becoming a significant factor in the country’s October 31 second-round contest between Worker’s Party candidate Dilma Rousseff and her Social Democracy Party opponent José Serra. Abortion has not historically played a prominent role in national elections in Brazil despite having the world’s largest Catholic population and a growing number of evangelical Christians.
The rise to prominence of the abortion issue is likely tied to the candidates’ efforts to woo supporters of Green Party candidate and evangelical Marina Silva, who dropped out of the race after winning an unexpectedly high 19 percent of the national vote. Analysts are now suggesting that the Workers’ Party’s traditional support for abortion and gay marriage may have cost Dilma Rousseff in the first round of voting and could play a defining role in the increasingly tight race's outcome.
In a televised debate last Sunday, Rousseff and Serra publicly clashed on the abortion issue. Serra accused Rousseff of changing her previous stance, while Rousseff responded that Serra “has a thousand faces” and accused him of slander.
Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. Estimates vary, but the Brazilian Ministry of Health claims one million illegal abortions are performed per year and are the fourth largest cause of maternal mortality.
In a spell of good news for the handpicked candidate of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an Ibope poll released yesterday shows Dilma Rousseff leading opposition candidate José Serra, 40 percent to 35 percent.
According to Rafael Lucchesi, director of operations for the national confederation of industry, which commissioned the poll, Dilma’s position is bolstered by “the economy, the popularity of the government, the popularity of the president, and his capacity to influence the electoral process." Economic growth reached 9 percent in the first quarter of 2010, the best performance in 14 years, despite continued malaise in the global economy.
Lula’s effect on the race is also growing. He has a 75 percent approval rating—the record for a Brazilian president—and is working with his party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, to raise Dilma’s name recognition among voters. In March, Ibope found that only 58 percent of Brazilians could identify the candidate that Lula supports; in yesterday’s poll, that number grew to 73 percent.
The campaign for the October 3, 2010, presidential vote is still in its early stage. The candidates formally accepted their nominations just two weeks ago, and until the World Cup is over on July 11, much of Brazil’s attention is on South Africa.