Third-party challenger forces Lula protegee into runoff

Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff
Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff Eraldo Peres / AP

SAO PAULO, Brazil — A surprisingly strong finish by a Green Party candidate denied the handpicked candidate of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a first-round victory in Brazil's presidential election, according to late returns Sunday night.

Dilma Rousseff was first with 47 percent of the votes, ahead of opposition candidate Jose Serra, who had 33 percent. Rousseff needed at least 50 percent to win outright, so she and Serra face a runoff election Oct. 31.

Serra is the former governor of Sao Paulo state and a former minister in the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula's predecessor.

Most analysts expect Rousseff to win the runoff. In the first round, however, the former chief of staff to the highly popular Lula, as the president is known to all, appeared to be hurt by what some evangelical voters considered an ambiguous position on abortion.

Brazilian political analyst Amaury De Souza said that evangelical voters were increasing in Brazil and appeared to have a strong influence in this year's elections.

He also said that Green Party candidate Marina Silva's performance made her "the first viable third-party candidate Brazil has seen in the last 20 years." Rousseff and Serra are seeking her endorsement.

Silva, who finished second in five states, said her party would deliberate before announcing whether it would support Serra or Rousseff. She said that she and the country needed more time to "reflect on and become familiar with the proposals of the two candidates."

The campaign had been characterized by a lack of specific proposals.

Born and raised deep in the Amazon, Silva was illiterate until she turned 16. She educated herself, went to a university and became a politician and a respected member in the global environmental movement. She was Lula's minister of environment until she resigned in 2008 in protest of policies that she considered too pro-development.

Last year she left Lula's Workers Party for the Green Party. She was reported to have had differences with Rousseff, who was the energy minister when she was in government.

Silva drew an eclectic group of supporters, including filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, the director of "City of God," Grammy Award-winning musician Gilberto Gil — also a former Lula minister — and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Silva also is popular among evangelicals.

Leandro Herrera, who comes from a conservative family, said he'd supported Silva because, given her life story, he considered her an entrepreneur. "It is really hard to change your life like that," he said. He also said that she "breaks from politics as usual."

He said that Lula had done a great job with the economy, but that he'd support Serra in the runoff. "Rousseff does not have a track record in public management nor Lula's political skills," he argued.

A Datafolha poll last week indicated that 51 percent of Silva supporters would vote for Serra in a runoff and 31 percent would vote for Rousseff, still enough to give Rousseff the victory.

In the new round of campaigning, television and radio time will be equal between the two candidates and they'll have to engage each other directly in debates, something largely absent until now.

(Sreeharsha is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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