Election full of surprises
The twists and turns in Brazil's presidential race ended for at least a few hours yesterday as millions of Brazilians cast ballots in an election expected to force a run-off between incumbent Dilma Rousseff and one of her two top challengers.
Rousseff held a commanding lead in all recent opinion polls, with her support rising to 46 per cent in a survey released hours before the vote. But even the leader said it was unlikely she could push through to win the absolute majority required to avoid a second-round election.
"I'm not operating with that idea. I'm working with the idea there will be a run-off," Rousseff said just before casting her vote early yesterday in southern Brazil, where she lived for many years and first entered politics.
She'll likely face either former environment minister and senator Marina Silva or Aecio Neves, the former governor of Brazil's second-biggest state, both of whom also cast their ballots and flashed 'V' for victory signs and big smiles. They were deadlocked in the most recent surveys, following Silva's steep drop in polls after aggressive campaigning by Rousseff.
"The fear campaign that Dilma and her marketing people have set up against Marina Silva has had a strong effect," said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia. "Dilma's people are saying Marina will abolish ... things they've gained through Government social programmes."
That's the heart of an apparent contradiction of this unpredictable campaign that saw Silva only enter the race in mid-August when a plane crash killed Eduardo Campos, her Social Party's top candidate, with whom she was running as the vice presidential candidate.
Opinion surveys say around 70 per cent of Brazilians say they want change - as made plain by mammoth anti-government protests held around the country last year blasting Brazil's woeful public services despite the nation's heavy tax burden.
Yet surveys also find that nearly three-fourths of Brazilians say they are satisfied with their lives.
"They want more of the same and that is what Dilma is offering," Fleischer said.
During the nearly 12 years in power for Rousseff's Workers' Party, strong social programmes have helped lift millions out of poverty and into the middle class. Rousseff's strongest support comes from the poorest, those who are precariously hanging on to gains amid an economy that has sputtered during the past four years.
"I don't think a sudden change would be good for the country. That could be dangerous," said Diego Almeida, a 26-year-old university student and resident of Rio's biggest slum, who said he voted for Rousseff.
Despite voting for the incumbent, he expressed the frustration millions of Brazilians have with their leaders, saying, "They've had 500 years to fix this country, and for 500 years, they've failed. I just hope that something happens in the next 500 years."