Brazil’s leading presidential candidate Rousseff is forced into runoff vote against centrist

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brazil’s Rousseff facing runoff presidential vote

SAO PAULO — A former Marxist guerrilla chosen by Brazil’s beloved leader to succeed him will face a centrist rival in a presidential runoff after failing to get enough votes to win Sunday’s election outright, according to official results.

Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old career bureaucrat trying to become Brazil’s first female president on the ruling Workers Party ticket, captured 46.8 percent of the vote but needed 50 percent to win in the first round of balloting.

Former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra got 32.6 percent support, while Green Party candidate Marina Silva got a surprising 19.4 percent, likely spoiling the center-left Rousseff’s chance of a first-round win by syphoning off votes. The results came with 99.6 percent of the votes counted, according to Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court.

The runoff election on Oct. 31 will pit Serra against Rousseff, who analysts say will be the heavy favorite, though a series of recent scandals could hurt the ruling party candidate.

“A second round is a whole new ball game. Everything starts from zero,” said Alexandre Barros, with the Early Warning political risk group in Brasilia. “I would say Dilma has a strong chance of winning a second round. But it will all depend on what new facts emerge during the campaign.”

Rousseff is the personal choice of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, universally known as Lula, who led Brazil to unparalleled economic growth, increased the nation’s political clout on the global stage, and leaves office with 80 percent approval ratings, though he also needed second-round votes to win his elections in 2002 and 2006.

“We are used to challenges. Traditionally, we have fared well in the second round,” Rousseff told supporters in Brasilia. “I’m confident that the second round will provide an important process of elucidation, of dialogue with the representatives of society.”

Serra had yet to make a statement late Sunday.

Rousseff has left behind her radical rebel youth, been a pragmatic and results-oriented bureaucrat for years and has pledged to stick to the pragmatic market-friendly policy charted by Silva that have lifted millions out of poverty.

Serra is a 68-year-old from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party and former mayor and governor of Sao Paulo who was badly defeated by Silva in the 2002 election. He, too, has promised to continue the policies of Silva.

“In the last election, I voted for Lula, who has improved the lives of millions of poor and made Brazil a country respected around the world,” said Maria Silveira, a 63-year-old retired teacher voting in Sao Bernardo do Campo, just outside Sao Paulo, where Silva also cast his ballot. “It only makes sense to vote for the candidate who I know will continue what he started.”

Asenate Vasconcelos, a 60-year-old secretary in Sao Paulo, voted for Serra “because the Workers Party has disappointed us with their scandals and giving a single man — Lula — so much power.”

A month ago it appeared Rousseff would get a first-round win, but an ethics scandal involving one of her former aides who took her post as Silva’s chief of staff a few months back received heavy media coverage and dented her standings in the polls just enough to keep first-round victory out of her reach.

But Serra, after voting in Sao Paulo, said Brazilians deserve to see the election head into a second-round vote so the candidates’ platforms can be more closely examined.

Outgoing President Silva, who has been a candidate in every presidential election since 1989 and is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, said this year’s election showed “the consolidation of Brazilian democracy.”

The campaign has been short on substance and long on arguing about who would more efficiently continue the policies of the Silva presidency — eight years during which 20.5 million people have been lifted from poverty.

But analysts said they expect the next four weeks of campaigning to force both Rousseff and Serra to provide more details about the policies they would enact if elected. Neither provided voters much detail in the first phase of campaigning.

While none of the three leading candidates come close to mustering the magnetic charisma Silva has, they all have histories just as fascinating as his.

Rousseff was a key player in an armed militant group that resisted Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. She was imprisoned for nearly three years beginning in 1970 and tortured. She is a cancer survivor, a former minister of energy and chief of staff to Silva.

Serra, in addition to being a former senator, governor and mayor, served as health minister under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and won praise for defying the pharmaceutical lobby to market inexpensive generic drugs and free anti-AIDS medicine.

Marina Silva, 52, is a renowned environmentalist who was born in the Amazon, the daughter of a poor rubber tapper. Despite being illiterate into her teens, she went on to earn a university degree and has since worked tirelessly to defend Brazil’s rain forest.

About 135 million voters also cast ballots for governors, mayors and state and federal houses of Congress. Under Brazilian law, voting is mandatory for citizens between the ages of 18 and 70. Not voting could result in a small fine and make it impossible to obtain a passport or a government job, among other penalties.

Electoral authorities in Brasilia said 368 people were arrested across Brazil on Sunday for election violations, such as trying to buy votes, illegally transporting people to polls and distributing campaign materials past deadline.

Associated Press Writers Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, and Stan Lehman, Tales Azzoni and Flora Charner in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

will not be displayed