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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Environmentalist Surges Ahead In Brazilian Presidential Polling

Political change could be coming to Brazil.

A new Ibope poll in Brazil shows that an unexpected challenger in the 2014 presidential election would defeat incumbent President Dilma Rousseff in a hypothetical run-off.

Rousseff was once thought to be in a strong position for reelection, but Marina Silva, an ardent environmentalist, has vaulted to the front of the pack.

The daughter of a rubber tapper, Silva had humble beginnings. She grew up poor and was illiterate until she was a teenager. But after years of activism in union politics, Silva was eventually elected senator from her home state of Acre.

From there, she became the environment minister for former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. She built a record as a champion of environmental issues and developed a global reputation for her efforts to fight deforestation in the Amazon.

Silva ran for president in 2010 on a Green Party ticket, and surprised the country with a strong third place showing, with more than 19 percent of the vote.

As the 2014 October election approached, Silva agreed to run for vice president on the Socialist Party ticket. But her plans changed when Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos died on Aug. 13 in a plane crash. His death launched Silva to the top of the ticket.

And her candidacy is completely altering the race. While Campos struggled to attract a significant portion of independent voters, Marina Silva is showing strong support in early polling.

An initial round of polling showed the two candidates in a close race, with Silva beating Rousseff in a hypothetical run-off 47 percent to 43 percent. But a poll released on Aug. 26 by Ibope shows Silva strengthening her position, with 45 percent support to Rousseff’s 36 percent.

Brazil is suddenly waking up to a real possibility that an outside candidate, with a strong green streak, might win the presidency.

What that means for Brazil’s energy industry is unknown at this point. But it is important to remember that Silva had a falling out with the Lula government and resigned as environment minister after facing off with Rousseff, Lula’s energy minister at the time.

The two disagreed largely over the direction of the economy. Silva opposed large infrastructure projects that threatened the environment, like the massive Belo Monte dam now under construction. The dam, when completed, will be the world’s largest, with over 11 gigawatts of capacity. However, the sheer size of the dam, as well as its location, will result in the destruction of large swathes of the Amazon rainforest. Projects like these were a huge point of contention in the Lula government, with Rousseff and Silva often on opposing sides.

A Silva presidency could halt major infrastructure projects, including large hydroelectric dams. Brazil already depends on hydropower for around three-quarters of its electricity generation, but economic growth and recent droughts have highlighted the need for more capacity.

Silva may also consider an end to fuel and electricity subsidies that are draining federal coffers. This could push fuel prices up, which could reduce demand. On the other hand, that would be beneficial to energy companies such as Petrobras and Eletrobras – the state-owned oil and electric power companies, which often sell their energy at subsidized rates in order to reduce the economic burden on the Brazilian population.

The obvious winner from a potential Marina Silva presidency would be renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biomass. When asked about how she would handle the economy in a 2013 interview with The Economist, Silva said, “Our guiding principle is sustainable development.”

Asked about how to finance public spending, she replied, “Today we cannot do without oil, which is a fossil fuel and very damaging, but it is essential to use these riches to invest in technology that will allow us to replace it by renewable sources.” Silva would undoubtedly focus on halting deforestation, but promoting renewable energy would likely be at the top of her agenda, as well.

To be sure, her priorities and policies are as of now uncertain. But with a little over one month to go until the first round of voting, the world may soon find out in which direction Marina Silva will take Brazil.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com




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