RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's re-elected leader Dilma Rousseff on Monday faced a house divided after a bitterly fought election that ended with the narrowest presidential win since the nation's return to democracy three decades ago.
In her victory speech, Rousseff said her first task will be to seek reconciliation and to build bridges to those who didn't vote for her.
"This president is willing to dialogue and that's the first promise of my second term, to have a dialogue," she said before cheering supporters in Brasilia.
But what's not clear is how far the famously stubborn Rousseff will reach out or to what extent a highly fragmented opposition and a Congress that now has 28 parties wants to work with her, principally on long-delayed structural changes and shorter-term measures needed to boost a stagnant economy, nor on political reforms that Brazilians demand.
"We've never seen an election that's been this divisive," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "The things said during the campaign, by both sides, will make it very difficult for the nation to come together quickly."
Rousseff has steep challenges on both the economic and political fronts.
Brazil's economy fell into technical recession in August. It faces the internal pressure of lessening consumer demand and the external nightmare of China's growth slowing faster than expected. Brazil's economic expansion in the past decade was built on the spending of a newly minted middle class and the voracious Chinese appetite for commodities like iron ore and soy.
Massive offshore oil finds in recent years were called Brazil's lottery ticket and its "passport" to developed-nation status by former president Silva. But state-run oil company Petrobras hasn't made good on its potential of tapping the deep-water riches. Many blame Rousseff's interventions in the oil firm, such as forcing it to keep gasoline at a cheap price to battle inflation, as hamstringing its ability to grow.
Now, Petrobras is at the center of a massive kickback scheme. A convicted money launderer who is cooperating with federal investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence said, but offered no proof, that the Workers' Party benefited from the scheme and that Rousseff had direct knowledge of it. She has angrily denied that.
The tough economic scenario, the political fallout from the scandal, the divided election and the ever-present demands of the middle class that public services be greatly improved in return for the heavy tax burden they pay means that Rousseff's road ahead will be bumpy.
"The government is going to have less capacity to deliver what the people are asking for in terms of better public services," Sotero said. "The political fighting and fiscal problems paint the picture of a government that will have less to spend."
But Rafael de Paula Araujo, a political scientist at Sao Paulo's Pontifical Catholic University, said that Brazil's been "divided along ideological and class lines for years," and that it's not a new battle for the Workers' Party.
"It's a division that became exacerbated after the first round vote when the election became polarized between two candidates," he said, adding that neither candidate could "end this division, which could, however, diminish in intensity as social inequalities also lessen."
Araujo argued that while there is a clear division following the election, the rift will likely quickly heal when voters they think about the 12 years the Workers' Party has been in power, a time during which "the rich got richer, the poor became less poor, and social programs benefited millions who entered the middle class."
Maria Socorro, a 23-year-old nanny in Rio, said she voted for Rousseff, but would hold her accountable for making good on her promises to protect the poor and turn Brazil's economy around.
"They've got to show that they'll push the country forward," she said. "Success is the best way to heal the divide this election created."
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report
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