President Dilma Rousseff during the announcement of her re-election. (Ichiro Guerra/Flickr)

President Dilma Rousseff during the announcement of her re-election. (Ichiro Guerra/Flickr)

When I lived and worked in military-ruled Brazil as the Rio de Janeiro bureau chief of The New York Times three decades ago, the common lament was that the prosperous industrialized south enjoyed European living standards while the poor, underdeveloped northeast subsisted at third-world levels. Since then, the country has become a robust democracy with a greatly expanded middle class, an internationally competitive economy that is the world’s seventh largest, and a reputation as a leading emerging power.

Yet the just concluded vote that earned Dilma Rousseff, 66, a second four-year term as president has also produced a divided country that, if anything, is even more geographically polarized than the one in 1985 when the military left power. This week’s electoral maps of the continental-sized country paint the north in solid red and the south in uninterrupted blue.

The north—poor, less educated, more rural, and beholden to government assistance—voted overwhelmingly for Ms. Rousseff, the populist Workers Party candidate and chosen successor to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In his two terms in office before her, he pioneered a widely admired cash transfer program called Bolsa Familia that helped lift 40 million Brazilians, many of them residents of the northeast, out of poverty.

The south—with Latin America’s business capital São Paulo at its heart and accounting for 62 percent of Brazil’s 2.4 trillion USD gross domestic product—gave two thirds of its vote to the centrist Social Democratic Party candidate Aécio Neves. He campaigned on a promise of restoring growth to a once-booming economy that stalled during Ms. Rousseff’s four years and has just marked its second consecutive quarter of negative growth—the technical definition of a recession. Read more