RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s leftist President Dilma Rousseff won a first-round election on Sunday (Monday in Manila) and will face business favorite Aecio Neves in what is shaping up to be a hard-fought runoff.
With nearly all ballots counted, Rousseff had 41 percent of the vote and Neves 34 percent, leaving popular environmentalist Marina Silva—who once looked set to become Brazil’s first black president —relegated with 21 percent.
The incumbent, who is looking to win a second four-year term and extend 12 years of Workers’ Party (PT) government, is the favorite three weeks out from the October 26 runoff.
But Neves, an ex-governor with a reputation as a smooth operator, has momentum in his favor after fending off the once unstoppable-looking Silva and finishing the first round well above the 27-percent support pollsters had given him on the eve of the vote.
After a campaign packed with all the twists and turns of a telenovela—a candidate’s death in a fiery plane crash, a poor maid’s rise to the cusp of the presidency, a seedy oil scandal—the election produced a traditional-looking second round between the two parties that have led the world’s seventh-largest economy for the past 20 years.
But Neves, the scion of a powerful political family, vowed to carry the mantle of “change,” the buzzword of the campaign after four years of economic slowdown, corruption allegations, frustration with poor public services, and record spending to host the World Cup.
He made an emotional appeal to Silva’s Socialist party supporters, whose electoral race was thrown into turmoil on August 13 when their original candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a plane crash.
Silva, his runningmate, took Campos’s place and initially leaped in the polls with her broad-based appeal.
But despite her compelling personal story—a one-time maid, she rose from illiteracy and poverty to become a respected conservation activist, senator and environment minister—she lost steam in the last month of the campaign.
Neves paid warm tribute to Campos and told Socialist voters: “It’s time to unite our forces.”
But Silva, a former PT stalwart who remains close with some in the party, did not rush to endorse anyone.
“Brazil has clearly signaled it is not for the status quo,” she said.
“We have an alliance with various parties and will take a decision jointly, maintaining what unites us — our program,” she added.
Rousseff for her part said four more years of PT rule was the best path to change.
“The Brazilian people want ever more advances and say they see the program I represent as the most legitimate and trustworthy force for change,” she said, vowing to win the second round.
The election, the closest in a generation for Latin America’s largest democracy, is widely seen as a referendum on PT rule.