Former Marxist guerrilla, centrist mayor main candidates in Sunday’s election to succeed Silva

By Bradley Brooks, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brazilians voting to replace popular leader Silva

SAO PAULO — A one-time Marxist guerrilla chosen by Brazil’s most popular leader in history to succeed him was the front-runner in Sunday’s presidential election and hoped to pull off what even her predecessor couldn’t: a first-round win with no need for a runoff.

Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old career bureaucrat, represents the ruling Workers Party and 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.

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 and governor 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.”

Maria Aparecida, a 67-year-old retiree voting in Sao Paulo, said the fact Rousseff could become Brazil’s first female leader mattered little to her — it was the quality of the candidate, not gender, that mattered.

“It depends on who that woman is. If she is good, then it’s good, but if she is not, than we don’t need a woman as president,” Aparecida said. “Lets hope that it’s a woman, but more importantly, a woman who is right for the country.”

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 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