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Brazilians voting to replace popular leader Silva

By Bradley Brooks

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:45 a.m. HST, Oct 03, 2010



SAO PAULO — A former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and brutally tortured during Brazil's long military dictatorship is the front-running candidate in Sunday's presidential election, though she may be forced into a runoff vote by her centrist rival.

Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old career bureaucrat, represents the ruling Workers Party and is the hand-picked successor 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 will leave office as its most popular leader.

The last polls published before election day showed Rousseff with a lead of about 20 percentage points over her closest rival, Jose Serra, a 68-year-old centrist from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party and former mayor of Sao Paulo who was badly defeated by Silva in the 2002 election.

"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."

Iracy Silva, a 22-year-old student, said she was not moved by the fact Latin America's largest nation may elect its first female leader, saying "experience counts more than gender."

"I voted for Serra because he has much more experience than the other candidates, whom I had barely even heard of before the campaigning began," she said after casting her vote in central Sao Paulo.

Rousseff was confident after voting in the southern city of Porto Alegre, where she began her government career.

"I fought the good fight, and whoever does that comes out stronger," she said. "Today is a day to be grateful because we have a great chance to win in the first round."

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.

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.

Despite an ethics scandal that received heavy media coverage in the final weeks of the race, Rousseff's numbers barely ticked down and polls put her on the cusp of winning an outright majority Sunday and avoiding a runoff Oct. 31.

If the election does go to a second ballot, it could be due to spoiler candidate Marina Silva, a former environment minister who is not related to the president.

In recent weeks, the Green Party candidate's standing in the polls rose from a steady 10 percent throughout the campaign to about 14 percent in the wake of the ethics scandal.

Yet even if forced into a runoff, Rousseff is widely expected to become Brazil's next president, said Carlos Lopes, a political analyst with Santafe Ideias in Brasilia.

"It would not change much if it went to the runoff," he said. "Dilma would remain the favorite because the appeal for continuity would remain. She will still have on her side the fact that people are satisfied with their lives, their jobs."

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 mayor and senator, 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 rainforest.

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.

___

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

ds in the industrial city of Sao Bernardo do Campo, just outside Sao Paulo, Silva's hometown and a Workers Party stronghold. Trying to fight any complacency among her supporters, Rousseff downplayed her lead in the polls and testily deflected questions about where she might hold a victory party.

Instead, she spoke of economic advances under Silva, who is popularly referred to as Lula. Rousseff laid claim to his legacy, saying she was the candidate to transform Brazil into an economic power that leaves nobody behind.

"We are only going to do it with the path that President Lula has opened," Rousseff said. "I do not believe in a developed nation that has a part of its population marginalized. My goal is to continue President Lula's work at eradicating poverty."

Despite an ethics scandal that received heavy media coverage in the final weeks of the race, Rousseff's numbers barely ticked down and polls put her on the cusp of winning an outright majority Sunday and avoiding a runoff Oct. 31.

Nevertheless, Serra, who has struggled through a campaign that analysts said lacked focus and failed to resonate with many voters, expressed confidence that he would make it to a second round for another four weeks of campaigning during which voters could examine the candidates more closely.

"On Monday, it all begins again," he said while campaigning in Sao Paulo on Saturday. "We are going to a second-round vote for the good of the country."

If the election does go to a runoff, it could be due to spoiler candidate Marina Silva, a former environment minister who is not related to the president.

In recent weeks, the Green Party candidate's standing in the polls rose from a steady 10 percent throughout the campaign to about 14 percent in the wake of the ethics scandal.

Yet even if forced into a runoff, Rousseff is widely expected to become Brazil's next president.

"A second round would pit Dilma against Serra, but the difference between the two is too large to be breached in such a short period of time," said Amaury de Souza, a Rio de Janeiro-based political analyst. "Unless there is a new catastrophic disclosure regarding corruption or Dilma's health, she will win the second round."

About 135 million voters will also cast ballots for governors, mayors and state and federal houses of Congress.

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

 






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