Brazil’s presidential poll heads for run-off
By John Paul Rathbone and Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo
Published: October 3 2010 18:21 | Last updated: October 4 2010 02:55
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Brazil’s presidential election took a surprising turn on Sunday evening when Dilma Rousseff failed to win a majority of the vote and must now take her chances in a run-off on October 31.
Ms Rousseff of the ruling leftwing PT had appeared to be heading for victory on a wave of popular support for outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her political mentor, who has overseen eight years of booming prosperity and leaves office with an approval rating of 80 per cent.
But with 99 per cent of the vote counted Ms Rousseff, a stern technocrat, had only 47 per cent, short of outright victory. Her biggest rivals, José Serra of the centrist PSDB, had 33 per cent and Marina Silva of the Green party had 19 per cent. Ms Rousseff needed 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a run-off.
A corruption scandal that unseated her former right-hand woman has dented Ms Rousseff’s lead over the past fortnight.
The result will be a stunning blow to Mr Lula da Silva who made securing his succession the priority of his last year in power. “A vote for Dilma is a vote for me,” he had said on Friday.
The second round promises to be a gruelling campaign. Ms Rousseff will be forced into a direct confrontation with Mr Serra, something both candidates have so far avoided.
Mandatory voting for 131m people
● Brazil is the world’s fourth most populous democracy. Sunday’s vote was the sixth direct presidential election since military rule ended in 1985
● The vote was also the first election since the end of military rule in which Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was not a candidate
Brazil is the world’s eighth-largest economy, with a gross domestic product of about $1,600bn
● Voting is mandatory for citizens over the age of 18
● About 131m of the 190m population are eligible to vote
● In addition to the president, the following posts are up for election: 27 state governors; all 513 representatives in the chamber of deputies; two-thirds of the 81-seat senate; and 1,059 representatives to state assemblies
● With the exception of a few remote polling stations, votes are cast electronically and can be tallied quickly
For most of the past four months, since her candidacy was officially declared, Ms Rousseff has been content to bask in Mr Lula da Silva’s popularity. Meanwhile, Mr Serra has failed to present either a critique or an alternative to the president’s powerful mixture of tight monetary policy and generous social spending.
Business leaders, the natural constituency of the former governor of São Paulo, have griped about the growing role of the state in Brazil’s economy, championed by Ms Rousseff, and the need for fiscal and other market-friendly reforms, while complaining about his reluctance to take the initiative.
In a televised debate before the poll Mr Serra ducked the chance of direct exchanges with Ms Rousseff in a lacklustre performance.
Political analysts said it would be impossible to avoid a potentially bruising confrontation in a run-off between two candidates.
Furthermore, the second round will boost the standing of Ms Silva, Mr Lula da Silva’s former environment minister and no relation, who resigned first from his government and then from his party after public disagreements with senior ministers, including Ms Rousseff.
Merval Pereira, a political commentator, had said the second round could see Ms Silva in the role of kingmaker and that her support had already been courted by senior figures in Mr Serra’s party, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president.
Investors have to date largely ignored the election, believing it to be a non-event on the assumption that neither Ms Rousseff nor Mr Serra would deviate much from the orthodox macroeconomic policies pursued by Mr Lula da Silva and Mr Cardoso over the past 16 years.
Analysts have believed that, even if Ms Rousseff failed to win on Sunday, she would go on to victory in the second round – an assumption that now looks questionable.