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BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Brazil’s presidential race took another dramatic turn Saturday, October 4, on the eve of the vote as polls showed former front-runner Marina Silva falling behind both Social Democrat Aecio Neves and incumbent Dilma Rousseff.
Silva, who once looked set to become Brazil’s first black president after replacing late Socialist Eduardo Campos following his death in a plane crash, has slipped behind Neves for the first time and enters Sunday’s first-round election in third place, according to three separate surveys.
The gap between business sector favorite Neves and popular environmentalist Silva was within the two-percentage-point margin of error in all three surveys – by pollsters Ibope and Datafolha and the National Transport Confederation (CNT).
But all three found Rousseff – Brazil’s first woman president – would defeat either Neves or Silva by more than five percentage points in a likely second-round race on October 26.
Ibope gave Rousseff 46% of the first-round vote to 27% for Neves and 24% for Silva.
Datafolha gave Rousseff 44%, Neves 26% and Silva 24%, while the CNT had Rousseff on 40.6%, Neves 24% and Silva 21.4%.
The election, set to be the closest in a generation, is widely seen as a referendum on 12 years of government by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT).
The vast country is divided between voters loyal to the PT for an economic boom that lifted millions from poverty in the 2000s and those calling for an end to the corruption scandals, poor public services and four years of disappointing growth tainting Rousseff.
Dramatic twists all around
For months Rousseff, 66, a former guerrilla who was jailed and tortured for fighting the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, looked likely to coast to an easy victory.
But the race was dramatically upended on August 13 when then third place candidate Campos was killed in a plane crash.
The proponents of change are now split between Silva, 56, who surged in the polls when she replaced her late running mate atop the Socialist ticket, and Neves, 54, from the powerful Social Democratic Party (PSDB), which ruled the country from 1995 to 2002.
Silva, who belongs to Brazil’s surging Evangelical Christian community and says she wants to be the diverse country’s first “poor, black president,” was initially projected to beat Rousseff in a runoff but has now fallen behind.
Neves has meanwhile closed the 20-percentage-point gap that separated him from Silva barely a month ago, reemerging as the top contender to face Rousseff in the second round.
Silva, a former PT environment minister who jumped to the Greens then made a failed bid to launch her own party before joining the Socialists — a path criticized as fickle by detractors — condemned negative campaigning by her adversaries.
The PT and PSDB “have both taken aim at us,” she told a final rally in Sao Paulo state before heading home to vote in Acre in the Amazon, where she grew up in a family of poor rubber-tappers, learning to read as a teen before becoming an environmental activist and senator.
Neves had already turned his sights on the incumbent as he held a rally in Belo Horizonte, the capital of his stronghold Minas Gerais, where he served two terms as governor.
“She (Rousseff) is probably afraid. I don’t think she’s ready to face us. We’ll be in the second round — and we’ll win the election,” he said.
Rousseff, who held a rival rally in the same city, fired back: “I’m not afraid of a second round, no…. If the voters decide on a second round, it will be a great pleasure to participate in that process.”
PT social programs have helped 40 million Brazilians escape poverty in the past 12 years.
But Rousseff has presided over an economic slowdown and, as of January, a recession, as well as million-strong protests last year against corruption and poor education, health care and transport.
She has also been battered in recent weeks by a corruption scandal implicating dozens of politicians — mainly her allies — at state-owned oil giant Petrobras. – Rappler.com