In the past five months, three large yet poor democracies held elections for top leaders. In India last May, Narendra Modi won with an Obama-like slogan, “Yes, we will do.” In Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo became president last week with “Yes, we can do it together.”
Largely gone was the theme of her first campaign in 2010 about inclusiveness, or embracing all Brazilians for can-do progress. Ms. Rousseff won by a slim margin, the smallest since 1894. She now faces a Congress with 28 parties, up from 22. Much of southern Brazil, home to most of the country’s economic strength, voted against her, especially around São Paulo. Her campaign failed to bridge the deep divisions that erupted last year in mass protests over corruption and poor government services.
As a former Marxist guerrilla, Rousseff still uses the kind of language that divides people by class. She promises dialogue with her opponents, but in her victory speech, she failed to mention her opponent, Aécio Neves.
After a particularly divisive campaign, she must look to Mexico for what should be done. After that country’s election in 2012, the three main parties got together and agreed on a package of major reforms that have since passed. The leading Mexican politicians essentially said, “Yes, we can.”
Rousseff cannot afford to wait. Inflation is high, growth is near zero, and the state-run oil company, Petrobras, has not made good in delivering big offshore wells. And the ruling Workers’ Party, after 12 years in power and early success under President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, now seems more entrenched than progressive.
Wealthier countries such as the United States can perhaps afford polarized politics for a while. But less-developed democracies need leaders who can both deliver results and do so by working with opponents. Brazilians deserve the “dialogue” that Rousseff promises with her opponents, who represent half of Brazil's nearly 200 million people. If it succeeds, it might serve as a lesson for Washington.