RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva vowed on Thursday to de-politicise regulatory agencies that she says do more to win favour with government allies than ensure fair and efficient markets in Latin America’s biggest economy.
Silva, who is running neck-and-neck with President Dilma Rousseff in polls ahead of next month’s election, accused the ruling Workers’ Party of undermining regulation by stacking government watchdogs with party members and allies during its 12 years in power.
“Agencies have been overtaken by a political logic,” she told Reuters in an interview in Rio de Janeiro, adding that similar interference is weakening state-run companies like Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, the oil company currently embroiled in a kickback scandal.
If elected, Silva added, she would prioritise “ethical and technical criteria” among regulators and use a non-partisan committee to select them.
A 56-year-old former rubber tapper and maid whose activism as an environmentalist catapulted her to Brazil’s Senate and a five-year run as environment minister, Silva has upended the electoral campaign ahead of a first-round vote on Oct. 5.
Originally a vice presidential candidate, she was thrust into top billing for the Brazilian Socialist Party when her running mate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in an August plane crash.
Since then, Silva, who could become Brazil’s first black president, surged to become a frontrunner and she is expected to go into a runoff vote against Rousseff on Oct. 26.
If elected, she will be tasked with jump-starting an economy now in its fourth year of lacklustre growth, weak investment and a loss of competitiveness by major industries. She would also have to tame an unruly Congress that has proven restive even when far bigger parties have controlled it.
So far, Silva has drawn voters with promises to maintain popular welfare programs, push for more sustainable development and return to the market-friendly fiscal policies that paved the way for a near decade-long boom that fizzled in 2011.
Critics have said that Rousseff, a leftist seeking a second term, has undermined the economy with interventionist tactics that have failed to revive growth.
Silva’s call for more independence for regulators is similar to a key pledge she made early in her campaign to grant formal independence to Brazil’s central bank.
Economists, and Rousseff’s opponents, have said that political pressure by her administration has led the bank to grow more lenient with inflation, now running at just over the government’s official tolerance ceiling of 6.5 percent.
But Silva declined to specify just how she plans to seek independence for the central bank. She also declined to say whether the bank’s mandate would move beyond its current focus on inflation.
“We want the best arrangement for Brazil,” she said, acknowledging the more comprehensive role that the Federal Reserve, for instance, plays in fighting unemployment in the United States.
Silva is the only candidate to publish an extensive, point-by-point agenda on critical issues and proposals.
Since that agenda was released, however, she has grown more cautious because of efforts by Rousseff and centrist rival Aecio Neves to poke holes in it. Rousseff campaign ads suggested that Silva’s plan for the central bank would take food off the tables of poor Brazilians.
“I am being very cautious because any partial phrase of mine turns into some headline that my adversaries will want to use against me,” Silva said. “Even things I don’t say have become headlines.”
While support for Silva has faded slightly in recent polls following a barrage of attack ads by opponents, she still poses the first serious threat to the ruling Workers’ Party since it came to power in 2003.
Though Silva helped found the party in the early 1980s and served with it as environment minister, she resigned the post and left the party because of disagreements over proposed changes to environmental policies she introduced that successfully slashed the rate of Amazon deforestation.
Reporting by Paulo Prada and Maria Pia Palermo; Additional reporting by Jeferson Ribeiro; Editing by Todd Benson, Kieran Murray, Toni Reinhold