VOTERS across Brazil cast their votes yesterday in what looked to be the country’s most unpredictable presidential election in decades.
As president Dilma Rousseff sought a second term, voters had to decide if the socioeconomic gains of the last decade were enough to reject the candidacies of a popular environmentalist and a pro-business social democrat, who both promised to jump-start the economy after four years of lackluster growth.
Polls show Ms Rousseff as the frontrunner in a race that is likely to go to a run-off on 26 October, following one of the most competitive campaigns since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985. The death of one candidate, the unexpected surge of another, and fierce marketing by Ms Rousseff to claw her way back into the lead have contributed to a nail-biter election.
“It really is too close to call,” said Rafael Cortez yesterday, a political analyst with Tendencias, a consultancy in Sao Paulo. “Volatility and frustration favour opposition candidates, but you don’t really have a crisis to topple the government, either.”
Ms Rousseff’s main rivals are Marina Silva, a hero of the global conservation movement and ruling party defector now with the Brazilian Socialist Party, and Aecio Neves, a senator and former state governor from the centrist party that laid the groundwork for Brazil’s economic boom last decade.
At mid-day yesterday, voting was proceeding without major problems, from densely populated southern cities to remote Amazon villages.
Ms Rousseff voted shortly after polls opened in the southern city of Porto Alegre, where she lived and rose in the state bureaucracy in the 1990s.
Ms Silva voted in the Amazon state of Acre, where she was born into a family of poor rubber tappers, while Mr Neves cast his ballot in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeastern state he governed before serving in Brazil’s Senate.
After trailing Ms Silva for most of the campaign, Mr Neves may have built up enough momentum to advance to a run-off against Ms Rousseff. Three polls on Saturday showed Mr Neves slightly ahead of Ms Silva. Ms Rousseff counts on a bedrock of support among the working class, thanks to generous social welfare programmes that grew in scope during the two terms of her hugely popular predecessor and political godfather, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
“What’s at stake is continuity,” said Ana Augusta de Medeiros, a 71-year-old voter in Rio who praised the ruling efforts against poverty. “I hope they will continue working on behalf of the poor.”
Even after mass protests a year ago, driven by the economic malaise and anger over corruption and poor public services, Ms Rousseff remains the favourite, helped by a barrage of negative campaigning that eroded an early lead by Ms Silva.
Ms Rousseff might even eke out a first-round victory, although no poll has suggested she has the impetus to clear the 50 per cent needed to win yesterday’s election. The numbers for a run-off are tighter, but also give Ms Rousseff an edge.