SAO PAULO, Brazil — A one-time Marxist guerrilla chosen by Brazil’s beloved leader to succeed him took a wide lead in Sunday’s presidential election, but a second-round vote seemed likely, an exit poll and partial results indicated.
Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old career bureaucrat who has managed in a decidedly pragmatic fashion since her rebel days, represents the ruling Workers Party and would be Brazil’s first female president.
A Globo television network poll carried out by the Ibope polling institute indicated that Rousseff had 51 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for opposition candidate Jose Serra. The exit poll interviewed 4,300 people in nearly 500 counties across Brazil. The margin of error was plus or minus 2 percentage points. The remaining votes went to a third candidate.
A candidate must win a majority of the vote to avoid heading into a Oct. 31 runoff vote with the second-place finisher.
Partial official results suggested a runoff could be in the cards.
With 72 per cent of the vote counted, Rousseff had 45 per cent of the vote compared to 34 per cent for Serra, according to the Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court. Votes were coming in slower, however, from areas where Rousseff has polled stronger.
Rousseff 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 per cent approval ratings.
Serra is 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, then 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 the last polls published had put her 20 percentage points ahead of Serra.
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 the Ibope exit poll, she had 18 per cent of the vote, well above the 14 per cent the last polls gave her.
In recent weeks, the Green Party candidate’s standing in the polls rose from a steady 10 per cent 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 favourite 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. But she has promised to continue Silva’s legacy and rule in a moderate fashion.
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.