What on earth just happened in Brazil?
The incumbent president, Dilma Rousseff, clung on to her job last night by the smallest of margins. In the second round vote she took 51.45% of the vote compared to her rival, Aécio Neves, who took 48.55%.
International investors are aghast that Brazil would cling on to their left-leaning PT (worker's party) president, rather than voting for the more market-friendly candidate. Brazilians living overseas and those living in wealthier parts of the country, such as São Paulo, are shocked that the people don't want to change the leadership of the nation, after three presidential terms with the PT.
I have never experienced an election so full of rancour and hatred. This election has descended into a traditional right v left fight, but with every dirty trick in the book used by the candidates and their supporters. Now the country is facing up to a new day where 48.55% of the country wanted a change, yet they have the same leader for another four years. Even one single vote over 50% is enough to win reelection, but while this is a democratic win, it shows that the nation is divided almost exactly down the middle.
The anger between the two sides in this election felt similar to the recent Scottish referendum, where friends and families were divided over their electoral choice - but this was turned up to 11. Here in Brazil tonight the 'unfriend' button is getting an enormous amount of action on Facebook as people cut ties with those who cannot accept defeat or choose to crow about this PT victory - even by the slimmest of margins.
Both the Brazilian and global media will offer more extensive analysis of the results on Monday, but as I sit here in São Paulo tonight digesting the results I think there are three observations I would mention to foreign observers - and perhaps some Brazilians.
1. Brazil remains a divided nation; the north and northeast of the country remains extremely poor with some of these states featuring a labour force where the majority of workers are on no more than the national minimum wage. Yet in Rio and São Paulo the wealthy commute by helicopter. Is it any wonder that the discussion now is about partition? The wealthy part of the country is angry about the poor who "live off their taxes" by claiming government benefits rather than working hard and earning a living.
2. People are unhappy with the choice of politicians; in Rio yesterday, around four out of 10 voters chose to annul their vote rather than choose one of the two options for president. If almost half of voters have actually voted 'none of the above' then it seems that whoever wins is more like the least bad option, rather than the choice of the people.
3. Dilma has to somehow unite a divided nation; I'm commenting before checking the complete data, but given how close this result was, if you combine the voters who chose Neves with those who annulled their vote then it is almost certainly more than the number who voted for the president - who is now set to enjoy four more years in Brasilia. This is a recipe for civil unrest - the president has to launch a charm offensive aimed at bringing back some of those supporters she lost during the campaign and appeasing others.
With Dilma back in office, the path is also clear for the PT to plan the return of the popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in four more years. Lula led Brazil for two terms prior to Dilma and groomed her as his successor. Of course to the metropolitan elites and Brazilians who have 'escaped' to London and Miami this sounds like their worst nightmare.
How can Brazil be united again? This has been the aim of Dilma's policies focused on children, housing, and education, but to many in the elite, or at least the middle class, these social welfare programmes resemble a communist state - many critics suggest that Dilma should move to Cuba.
Dilma does has form on Cuba - she plugged gaps in the Brazilian health system with Cuban doctors. Generally in places where the local doctors don't want to work, which means that the doctors are certainly not thrilled to see her reelection. But providing doctors where people need them has been popular with citizens. I know because they are here in the town where I'm living - the only people upset about them arriving here were the existing doctors.
But how can any leader deal with such a divided nation where the south can afford cars from Lamborghini and the north barely manages on salaries of around $300 a month?
In the town where I live in São Paulo, a local politician - an elected official - called the people of the north "mother fuckers" on his Facebook page tonight. This is where we are in Brazil tonight. Even elected officials are calling for the rich part of the nation to split from the poor. But if that ever happened, where will that local politician get his cleaning staff?
I can't vote in Brazil. I'm a permanent resident, but I am not allowed to vote. I intend to become a citizen by the time of the next election so in four years my own voice can be added to the mix. But four years is not much time to spread more wealth to the north of the country - I'm expecting the same north-south divide to exist. But hopefully less so than now.
And hopefully the political debate can take place without the hatred this campaign has sparked. I doubt it, but then the people of Brazil who are not a part of the metropolitan elite can only live in hope. What else do they have?Suggest a correction