Brazil presidential race goes to runoff

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s chosen candidate to succeed him next year came out on top in elections Sunday, but fell short of an outright win needed to avoid a runoff.


An official tally of 98 percent of ballots showed Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s former cabinet chief, won 47 percent of the vote to 33 percent for her nearest rival, former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra.

That was short of the 50-percent-plus-one-ballot threshold Rousseff required to obviate an October 31 knockout round against Serra — a round all pre-election surveys said Rousseff should have been able to avoid.

The surveys had predicted Rousseff would win 50 to 52 percent of the valid ballots Sunday.

“We can confirm there will be a second round in the presidential elections,” Ricardo Lewandowski, the president of the High Electoral Tribunal, told reporters in Brasilia.

The pre-election surveys suggested that Rousseff would handily beat Serra in the second round to become Brazil’s first woman president.

Serra’s attempt to tar Rousseff with scandals swirling in her camp and ruling Workers Party appeared to pay off in the days before the election, stalling her momentum and robbing her of support at the last minute.

But he did not benefit so much as the third-placed candidate in the race, Marina Silva, Lula’s former environment minister, whose 19 percent share of the ballots was far higher than the 14 percent forecast for her.

“We defended a victorious idea and Brazil heard our cry,” Silva told a media conference. She

Carlos Alberto de Melo, a political analyst at the Insper insititute in Sao Paulo, told AFP the shift to Silva “was a protest vote by part of the electorate who weren’t convinced by Dilma or Serra, and who finally voted for Marina to play for time and force a second round.”

Some observers believed much of Silva’s support could go to Serra rather than Rousseff in a runoff.

Sunday’s elections, which mobilized the country’s 136 million voters, were also to choose federal and state deputies, most of the senate, and the governors of all 26 states. Voting is compulsory in Brazil.

Lula, Brazil’s most popular president ever, is leaving office at the end of the year after serving the maximum two straight terms permitted under Brazil’s constitution.

He has thrown his full weight behind getting Rousseff, 62, elected, promising voters she would continue his policies that have brought prosperity to Latin America’s biggest nation, the world’s eighth-ranked economy.

Lula, 64, boasted after casting his ballot that Brazil “is living an extraordinary moment in consolidating democracy.”

The national economy — booming thanks to financial stability, strong exports, soaring domestic consumption and poverty eradication overseen on his watch — was forecast to grow by more than seven percent this year.

Lula hands over the reins to his successor on January 1, 2011.

The High Electoral Tribunal said no incidents of violence disrupting voting were reported during the day, though 650 people were arrested for illegally campaigning, trucking in voters or trying to buy votes. Forty-three of those detained were candidates for public office.

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