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Brazil president faces angry citizens as elections loom

/ 05:31 AM July 11, 2014

With elections looming, President Dilma Rousseff now faces Brazilians angry at their World Cup humiliation, but her bigger worry will be convincing voters she can jump-start the economy. AP PHOTO/ERALDO PERES

BRASILIA, Brazil-—With elections looming, President Dilma Rousseff now faces Brazilians angry at their World Cup humiliation, but her bigger worry will be convincing voters she can jump-start the economy.

Rousseff had promised Brazilians that they would see the “Cup of Cups” but they ended up witnessing their beloved national team’s elimination in an embarrassing 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany at home on Tuesday.

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The shocking defeat has brought a gloomy mood to a country that often confirms the cliché that “football is a religion.”

“Football is very important for Brazil and a defeat of this magnitude will deeply affect the nation’s spirit,” said Luiz Antonio Machado, a sociologist at Rio de Janeiro State University.

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But analysts say Rousseff’s hopes of reelection in October will depend on how voters feel about their pocketbooks, not a football match.

The leftist president’s popularity has seen ups and downs in the past year, reaching lows when protests erupted last year over the record $11 billion spent to host the World Cup.

But she has a comfortable lead in opinion polls, with the most recent survey giving her 38-percent support compared with 20 percent for Social Democratic Sen. Aécio Neves and 9 percent for socialist former Gov. Eduardo Campos.

Rousseff said she could never have fathomed such a bad Cup defeat.

“My nightmares never got so bad. They never went that far,” she told CNN.

But she said she did not believe it would spark fresh protests because the tournament had taken place in peace.

Hallmark of a great country

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“Being able to overcome defeat, I think, is the feature and hallmark of a major national team and of a great country,” she said.

Rousseff’s popularity has risen in the past month thanks to the success of the tournament and the national team’s victories, but Tuesday’s devastating loss has ended the party mood in the street.

Many fans chanted obscenities against Rousseff at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, though she was absent. She heard similar insults when she attended the opening game in São Paulo on June 12.

More verbal abuse

She runs the risk of hearing more verbal abuse when she attends the final in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium on Sunday to hand the trophy to the winner.

A protest has been called outside the stadium that day, but it’s unclear whether many people will turn out.

A few protests took place during the tournament, gathering just a few hundred people at most—far fewer than the hundreds of thousands who flooded the streets during last year’s Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal.

Brazilians have demanded better health care, education and public services in a country whose once blistering economic growth has slowed in recent years. Growth of just one percent is expected this year while inflation is on the rise.

The World Cup defeat “can increase the criticism, change the mood,” said Humberto Dantas, a political science professor at the Education and Research Institute.

But Dantas voiced doubts that Brazil would see another round of massive demonstrations because many protestors are students who are currently on vacation and other people were turned off by clashes between police and demonstrators.

Gilberto Carvalho, the administration’s Cabinet chief, sought to separate the election from the tournament.

Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director for the Eurasia Group political consultancy, said the World Cup would have little impact on the election.

“The biggest risk for Rousseff in this election remains the economy, not the World Cup,” he added.

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TAGS: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Elections, world cup
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