Brazilian election in disarray after Socialist Campos' death in air crash

Death of left-wing challenger for Brazilian presidency may see running mate step into his shoes with implications for incumbent Rousseff

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 7:02pm


Brazil's political landscape was being redrawn yesterday, a day after a small plane crash killed a top presidential candidate less than two months before the election.

The death of politician Eduardo Campos in a plane that crashed in the port city of Santos is reshuffling the candidates and voter preferences, and could further complicate president Dilma Rousseff's re-election, analysts said.

Political observers say Campos' socialist party is expected to declare his running mate Marina Silva, one of the country's most popular politicians, as its presidential candidate.

"If she runs, it becomes a more competitive race. It increases the likelihood of a run-off happening," said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director for the Eurasia Group consulting firm. "It would be a pretty close race to see who is going to be the runner up."

The other main candidate, Aecio Neves, has been showing in polls as a strong second choice after Rousseff. The election had been shaping up to be a two-candidate race, leaving Campos out of the run-off. But experts are now saying the next polls could show Silva, a former presidential candidate, beating Neves, and possibly setting the two female politicians against each other in a second round.

"(Marina) could be the springboard needed to overcome the tragedy and become a viable candidate in a second round," wrote Paula Cesarino Costa, a columnist for Folha de S. Paulo.

The crash put campaigns on halt and politicians are avoiding any comments on the October 5 race so they are not seen as insensitive to the deaths of 49-year-old politician, four of his aides and two pilots.

Rousseff declared a state of national mourning and suspended her campaign for three days.

"All of Brazil is in mourning. We lost a great Brazilian today, Eduardo Campos. We lost a great comrade," the leftist president said.

The 56-year-old Silva hasn't hinted that she will take the lead as the Brazilian Socialist Party nominee. Brazilian law gives parties 10 days to choose a substitute in the case of a candidate's death. The party could still choose another candidate, more loyal to the base, or decide not to run and support the president or her main opponent.

A longtime evangelical Christian, Silva surprisingly won 20 million votes when she ran for president as the Green Party candidate in 2010. An outsider inCampos' party, she joined his ticket last October after she was unable to set up her own party in time to run against for president.

Along with garnering a possible sympathy vote after the crash, some experts say Silva could exploit dissatisfaction among Brazilians. She gained a strong base after the mass protests that swept Brazil last year and won international praise for her efforts to help preserve the Amazon rainforest as environment minister.

Rousseff, the hand-picked successor of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has seen her popularity flag in recent months amid slowing economic growth, high taxes and poor public services - although she has remained the strongest candidate. A survey by the Ibope polling agency released over the weekend said 38 per cent of those questioned supported Rousseff, while 23 per cent were for Neves and 9 per cent backed Campos.

Campos was married to his high school sweetheart and the two had five children.

The candidate, four members of his campaign staff and two pilots were travelling to the city of Guaruja when the Cessna 560XL went down in Santos.

Aeronautical officials said the plane was trying to land in bad weather, although Globo television broadcast interviews with witnesses who said the aircraft was in flames before it crashed among apartment buildings.

Television stations broadcast images of the crash site on a continuous loop, showing a smouldering pit littered with debris and what appeared to be plane parts and emergency workers picking through the wreckage.

Daniel Onias, a civil defence officer on the scene, said the victims' bodies were "disintegrated". Five people on the ground at the time of the crash were slightly injured, he said.