In death, Brazilian presidential candidate’s popularity soars


Thousands of people escort the coffin of late Brazilian presidential candidate for Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) Eduardo Campos during his funeral in Recife, Brazil, on Sunday. Thousands of people bid farewell to Campos, who died Aug. 13 in an plane crash in Santos, Brazil. (Fernando Bizerra Jr./EPA)

The line to see Eduardo Campos’s coffin was almost two miles long. Tens of thousands of people coiled around the square in front of the ornate state government palace from which he ran Pernambuco state in Brazil’s northeast region for eight years, before resigning in April to run for president. The line extended over a bridge and alongside a river.

In all, an estimated 100,000 came to see his coffin and watch a Mass shown on giant screens from the palace front. Many in the somber, reflective crowds wore ­T-shirts with his beaming photo and the phrase, “We will not give up on Brazil.”

This comment, which Campos made in a television interview the night before he and six others died in the crash of a small airplane Wednesday morning, has become emblematic of what supporters say he stood for. A third way for Brazilian politics. Good management that combined business sense with investments in health and education. The “different actions” that a June poll said 74 percent of Brazilians wanted from their next president.

Campos placed third in the most recent poll for October’s presidential election, with 9 percent. But his death has reset the presidential race, which President Dilma Rousseff was expected to win in a first-round vote. Her Workers Party, or PT, has run Brazil since 2003, and she leads with 38 percent.

Now all eyes are on Campos’s vice presidential candidate, Marina Silva, an environmentalist and former environment minister who came in third in the 2010 presidential election, with 20 million votes, then joined Campos’s Brazilian Socialist Party when her bid to fight this election on her own party platform was foiled by electoral rules. She will stand in his place.

“Brazil wants to change,” said Dalonio Carvalho, 44, a lawyer who had arrived with friends by bicycle. “The PT has been there too long.”

Campos’s death has elevated his stature and shocked Brazil. Details of the unexplained crash and the journey of the remains in a Brazilian air force jet to Recife dominated Brazilian news media, while photos of Campos with his wife and five children bombarded social networks.

Now this vast country knows more about Campos than it ever did before. In a bitter political irony, he has become much more electable dead than he was alive. The question is whether Silva can translate that outpouring of emotion into votes.

“She should get a bounce from the outpouring of sympathy and despair,” said David Fleischer, a professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. The likelihood of the election being pushed to a runoff “is now 100 percent,” he said.

When Campos’s body arrived at the palace at 2 a.m. Sunday on top of a fire engine, thousands chanted his name as three of his children, kneeling beside the coffin, punched the air. A chant for “Marina” followed as Silva smiled. More applause came during the Mass on Sunday when her image was shown on screens. Both times, it was more a light rainstorm of support, not the thunderous approval that Campos received.

Carvalho and his friend Gustavo Abreu, 44, a public servant, said they will transfer their votes from Campos to Silva. Others said they will wait to see how she performs during campaigning.

Some questioned her endurance and experience. “Marina does not have the strength,” said retiree Laurinette Silva, 67, resting on a bench after waiting two hours to see Campos’s coffin.

Marina Silva, an evangelist from a poor Amazon family, has said little since Campos’s death. She nearly took the same plane as him and reportedly has spent much time in prayer. She was second in polls when she joined Campos’s campaign last year.

Laurinette Silva said she will transfer her vote to Rousseff. Her friend Telma dos Santos, 44, a homemaker, was undecided. “I would have voted for Eduardo Campos. Now, I don’t know,” she said.

Rousseff and second-place candidate Aécio Neves, from the ­center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, or PSDB, attended Sunday’s service. Neves was polling at 23 percent.

Brazilian business would prefer Neves. But Campos picked up backing when he indicated support for less government interference in Brazil’s economy, which is underperforming and expected to grow less than 1 percent this year. He also promised independence for Brazil’s Central Bank.

“Markets would still prefer a Ms Silva government to another four years of Ms Rousseff,” Robert Wood, a Brazil analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York, said by e-mail.

Silva could gain from the widespread political cynicism that expressed itself in mass street protests in Brazil in 2013. Up to a third of voters are still undecided.

“Ms Silva stands a good chance of picking up support from these ranks,” Wood said.

But Silva lacks Campos’s ability to engage constructively with apparently opposing sectors, said José Moisés, a political science professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “At times, she appears a little radical,” he said. “She will have to overcome this.”

In Recife, many said their lives had been transformed during Campos’s two terms as governor. A fishing community moved from wooden shacks beside open sewers to modern housing, and teenage students were sent to Canada to learn English. Members of an agricultural collective have a “first-world” school, thanks to Campos, said Edinilson Santos, 53, one of the small farmers.

The screens showed popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beside Campos’s coffin. In 2010, Lula parlayed his popularity into a victory for Rousseff, his protégé and former chief of staff. Campos served as Lula’s science and technology minister. Could his death propel Marina Silva in the same direction? Could she campaign hard enough to win over the doubters and force a second round?

Could she even win?

“It depends on the people,” Santos said. “If it was up to me, she would.”

Dom Phillips is The Post's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.
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