- - Sunday, May 25, 2014

SAO PAULO, Brazil | As World Cup host Brazil aims to add to its record five international soccer titles, President Dilma Rousseff is intensifying her re-election campaign.

A few days before Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari named his squad, Ms. Rousseff made a nationwide broadcast to announce increases in her leftist Workers Party’s emblematic Bolsa Familia (Family Grants) welfare program and modest tax cuts.

A year ago such electoral ploys would have seemed unnecessary. Analysts had considered Brazil’s first female president a shoo-in for a second term. Many had predicted that she might garner enough votes in the first round on Oct. 5 to avoid a runoff three weeks later.

Now “the most predictable thing about the elections is that they are unpredictable,” says Roberto Teixeira da Costa, a member of the board of SulAmerica, a Sao Paulo-based insurance company.

For most of the first half of her four-year term, Ms. Rousseff enjoyed approval ratings that paled only in comparison with the astronomical figures of her mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left office with a rating of more than 80 percent.

During the Confederations Cup, a World Cup tune-up, in June, demonstrators questioned outlays on stadiums at the expense of public services and demanded “FIFA-standard” health care, education and transportation — in reference to the world soccer governing body’s requirement for international stadium benchmarks.

Ms. Rousseff’s approval rating plummeted by 27 percentage points in three weeks.

Brazil will kick-off the World Cup against Croatia on June 12, but anti-tournament street demonstrations are already in full swing. Protest groups make disparate demands, but they all decry the billions spent on stadiums and related construction. Cup-related infrastructure projects, promised as a legacy, remain incomplete or abandoned.

“The ‘No Cup’ demonstrations symbolize the level of deterioration” of the administration’s image, Mr. Teixeira da Costa says.

Citizen complaints are backed by a study released last year by the Brazilian Institute of Tax Planning. With a tax burden of about 36 percent of GDP, Brazil’s return in quality of life as measured by the U.N. Human Development Index ranked last among the 30 countries studied, including neighbors Uruguay and Argentina.

Brazil’s sluggish growth rate and stubbornly high inflation also spur complaints. Up by just 2.3 percent in 2013, economic growth lagged behind brethren emerging markets China (7.7 percent) and India (4.4 percent).

“On the economic side, things are not good,” says Joao Pedro Ribeiro, a Brazilian economist with Roubini Global Economics.

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