Brazil: President Rousseff in poll position

Dilma Rousseff, left, is greeted by rival Marina Silva before their TV debate. Picture: Getty
Dilma Rousseff, left, is greeted by rival Marina Silva before their TV debate. Picture: Getty
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BRAZILIAN president Dilma Rousseff has extended her lead ahead of tomorrow’s election and would win re-election in a likely second-round runoff, while her main challengers are virtually tied for second place, according to the latest polls.

Environmentalist Marina Silva has continued to slip and is now only three percentage points ahead of centrist candidate Aecio Neves, according to the Datafolha polling firm.

That is viewed as a statistical tie, as it is within the poll’s ­margin of error.

Ms Rousseff has advanced to 47 per cent, within three percentage points of an outright first-round victory, when spoilt and blank ballots are excluded, Datafolha said.

If no candidate wins a majority tomorrow, the election will be decided in a runoff between the two leading candidates on 26 October.

Ms Rousseff’s increased chances of winning a second term have weighed down markets in Brazil, where investors have been hoping for a change of government. Some blame Ms Rousseff’s interventionist policies for the stagnation of Latin America’s largest economy.

Both the Datafolha poll and another by the Ibope research firm show her winning a runoff against Ms Silva by seven percentage points.

Ms Rousseff has increased her lead over Ms Silva in the first round to 16 percentage points in both polls, with 40 per cent support compared with 24 per cent for Ms Silva.

Mr Neves, the market favourite, who has been stuck in third place since Ms Silva’s late entry into the race, increased his support by one percentage point to 21 per cent, Datafolha said, and now has a fighting chance of making the run-off.

The polls confirm that Ms Silva, a popular anti-establishment figure, has continued to lose ground since peaking in late August.

She surged in the polls after entering the race when her party’s original candidate was killed in a plane crash, and initially gained a ten-point advantage over Ms Rousseff.

She lost ground under a barrage of criticism from the president’s campaign that portrayed her pro-market policies as a threat to Brazil’s poor and questioned her ability to govern without a solid party coalition.

In the final television debate of the campaign on Thursday night, Ms Silva and Mr Neves criticised Ms Rousseff for allowing corruption at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras), which is embroiled in a scandal over alleged kickbacks and bribing politicians.

The allegations contained in leaked plea-bargain statements by a jailed former director of Petrobras have so far not hurt Ms Rousseff’s re-election bid because no evidence has emerged.

But Ms Silva assailed Ms Rousseff for lying about her relationship with the jailed executive. “Corruption has been swept under the carpet,” she said.

Mr Neves accused the president’s party of “handing the country’s largest company over to a gang of thieves”.