Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

The campaign leading up to Dilma Rousseff’s re-election has been fraught with drama, not only for the spate of negative ads lobbed between candidates but also for the intense longing for what might have been, embodied by former socialist candidate Marina Silva.

In August, the Socialist Party’s original candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on his way to a campaign event. His running mate, Silva, was almost immediately hailed as his successor, potentially heralding a new era for Brazilian progressive politics.

An environmental activist and the government’s former Environment Minister, Silva was pro-green energy, pro-conservation and well-respected by the public. Unfortunately, Silva was squeezed out of the race by coming in third in the first round of elections, behind Neves and Rousseff. Yet she remained an influential presence in the election by endorsing Neves after the latter agreed to support environmental sustainability.

The support was not quite enough to win the election, but it was an exceedingly close race. Rousseff won her re-election with only 51.6 percent of the popular vote.

Rousseff has been President of Brazil since 2010, after succeeding her mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Both are members of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT), which has led the government since 2002.

Despite its support from the country’s substantial working class, PT has been the target of corruption charges for nearly a decade. Lula’s administration was nearly torn down after the Mensalão corruption scandal in 2005, in which PT was accused of paying congressmen large, monthly stipends for their support. Other scandals involving the party included bribing the state-run postal system and extorting money from illegal betting rings in Rio de Janeiro. Several politicians were indicted following Mensalão, including Lula’s chief-of-staff, but Lula himself not only escaped charges, he also managed to win re-election and use his own popularity to aid Rousseff in her presidential ascension.

This most recent election has been divided by social and geographic lines, with Rousseff (who represents labor and workers’ rights) polling better in the country’s poorer, northern half and Neves (who represents conservative, business interests) polling higher in the more developed south. Yet despite Rousseff’s support from the working class, her own standing has gradually diminished as her involvement with PT’s scandals has been called into question.

Rousseff was Lula’s Energy Minister at a time when Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, was accused of taking bribes from the administration. Rousseff then alienated herself from the environmental bloc when she partially vetoed revisions to the country’s Forest Code, which resulted in fines being waived against illegal deforestation and an easing of restitution requirements.

“There will be losses in the quality and quantity of waters, and losses for the conservation of biodiversity,” said André Lima, public policies coordinator at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, in a statement. “The concept of Areas of Permanent Protection has become meaningless.”

Compare this record to Silva, the daughter of poor northern rubber tappers, who is considered the politician most responsible for slowing Amazon deforestation. During the 2010 election, Silva ran as a Green party candidate and came in third with 19 million votes (a record for an environmental politician, according to the Guardian).

Upon her re-election, Rousseff seems aware of the deep political divide in her country. On Monday she promised she would be “a much better president than I have been until now.”

Whether that means building a more fortified relationship with agribusinesses that ignore their carbon footprint or reducing forest degradation that contributes to drought and a loss of biodiversity remains to be seen.

(Warwick Manfrinato and Duto Sperry contributed to this report.)

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