About 142 million registered voters in Brazil head to the voting booths on Sunday in order to decide who could be the South American country’s next president.
Recent polls have shown that incumbent leader Dilma Rousseff is the odds-on favorite to win today’s election though she might not obtain the majority of voted to prevent a runoff on October 26th against the runner-up of today’s election.
“We took Brazil off the U.N.’s hunger map and helped thirteen million Brazilians attend university,” tweeted Rousseff regarding public social programs under her rule. She also referred to her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for their efforts to push through a “peaceful social revolution” during the past twelve years.
Of the ten other presidential candidates on the ballot, former environment minister Marina Silva appeared to be Rousseff’s strongest rival. Silva, who took over for Eduardo Campos when he died in a plane crash nearly two months ago, has positioned herself as an alternative to Brazil’s traditional politics by appealing to disenchanted youth while also promoting pro-business and socially conservative policies.
“She’s not a messiah… she’s a human with flaws like everyone else. But she’s a person of integrity and ethics and we need that desperately,” said Camargo Cesar, the author of a biography on Silva.
A series of negative ads from the Rousseff campaign and accusations of flip-flopping have apparently affected support for Silva. According to two polls released on Saturday, Silva is in a statistical tie for second place with senator Aécio Neves. Neves enjoyed a recent surge in the polls as he has hammered away at several corruption scandals including alleged bribery by execs at state-run oil giant Petrobras.
“He is the most capable and knowledgeable of the three candidates – the safest pair of hands. Dilma is just an agitator and Marina is too unreliable,” noted one Rio de Janeiro resident.
(UPDATE BELOW THE PAGE BREAK)
Update: As expected, Rousseff won in Sunday's election but will have to face Neves in a runoff in three weeks time.
With 96% of the vote counted, the incumbent received 41% followed by the former governor of Minas Gerais with 34%.
Silva finished a somewhat distant third with only 21% of the vote.
Silva may have positioned herself as an outside choice but in the end the two traditional political party candidates will go through to the decisive round. While the Rousseff campaign effectively launched attack ads against the ex-environment minister, Neves can thank his party's support for helping him get into the second round:
Neves, however, had the backing of the well-organized Social Democracy Party, which held the presidency from 1994 until 2002, a period when Brazil tamed its hyperinflation and turned its economy around.Both candidates in the runoff agree in the need to enact reforms against corruption, leaving the current limits on abortion and are opposed to gay marriage. Yet Rousseff favors expanding public social programs in health and education, and is also against legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. If elected, Neves promises to streamline the federal government and would be open to reexamine policies on marijuana such as the drug's legalization in Uruguay.
"Aecio's performance has been extraordinary and one of the reasons for this is the very strong party structure behind him; a party with a strong nationwide presence and which has been in the presidency," said Carlos Pereira, a political analyst with the Gertulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil's leading think tank. "It is now a new election where everything is wide open. Aecio, who until recently no one believed had a chance, has emerged as a very strong candidate."
Despite the peaceful nature of today’s election, some voting locations have reported delays due to the electronic voting system being used. Though some voters have had to wait as long as three hours to cast their ballot, the head of Brazil’s electoral tribunal assured that registered voters on line prior to the 5:00 PM deadline will be permitted to vote.
In the end, whoever emerges, as Brazil’s next president will have numerous challenges to tackle, chief of which is the country’s struggling economy. Brazil may still be in the BRIC alliance of emerging economic countries, but Brazil officially fell into recession last August as growth fell from a peak of over 7% in 2010 to less than 2% under Rousseff.
Though economic problems was one of the main reasons behind mass street protests last year, it remains to be seen if the Brazilian electorate this month will largely blame or back Rousseff.
“Dilma is the public face of this government, so it is unavoidable people will blame her for most of what is happening in the country, regardless of her actual responsibility. I think this is natural in any presidential democracy,” observed Brazilian economist and blogger Luciano Sobral.
Aside from the presidency, voters will also be choosing most of the seats in Congress, governors in twenty-seven states and other regional posts.
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