Brazil elections: Rousseff, Neves gear up for final vote
BRASILIA, Brazil – Leftist incumbent Dilma Rousseff and Social Democratic challenger Aecio Neves are fighting to break a statistical tie in the polls a week out from next Sunday's (October 26) presidential runoff.
The contest has developed into the closest-fought in a generation as Neves, scion of a political dynasty, looks to unseat Rousseff, whose Workers Party (PT) has been in power for 12 years.
Having unexpectedly thrashed environmentalist Marina Silva in the first round, Neves, former governor of southern Minas Gerais state, has his nose just in front, polls say.
But his advantage going into this weekend was wafer-thin at 51% to 49%, leaving him and Rousseff in a virtual dead heat.
The past week has seen Neves 54, and Rousseff, 66, engage in caustic debate with both accusing the other of lying and turning a blind eye to graft, a key issue in the debate amid a kickbacks scandal involving oil giant Petrobras.
While insisting he will keep in place extensive PT welfare reform programs after they pulled millions out of poverty in the past decade, Neves has accused Rousseff's administration of failing on the economy by leading it into recession this year.
Rousseff's four years have been marked by low growth which had raced ahead under predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
With the Petrobras scandal also haunting her administration – though his own party has not escaped allegations of wrongdoing – Neves insists that "Brazil cannot take another four years of misgovernment on this scale."
Rousseff fired back by unsubtly referring to 2011 reports of Neves refusing to take a breathalyzer test and insisting that his party, which ruled Brazil for 8 years before Lula triumphed in 2002, would seek to unpick the welfare reforms which have won international renown.
"My government will care for all Brazilians, in contrast to the previous one (of 1995-2002 Social Democrat (PSDB) president Fernando Henrique Cardoso) which only served the elite," trumpeted Rousseff, who polled 8% more than her rival in the October 5 first round.
Though many Brazilians fed up with poor public services and corruption say they want change next week's run-off features two candidates whose respective parties have ruled the country between them for the past two decades.
The country is also split down the middle, between the largely PT-supporting, less well off North and the richer South, where Neves' pro-business message is well received.
"This is an extremely divisive election. The upper middle and upper classes have gone for Neves, and the lower middle and the excluded – at whom the PT's big social programs are directed – are voting for Rousseff," Mauro Paulino, director of polling agency Datafolha, told Agence France-Presse.
But he explains that, for those in the middle, things are less clear-cut.
"The middle class, which grew most under PT rule and forms a large swath of the electorate (at around 36%), is divided between the two candidates.
"On the one hand they are afraid to lose the gains associated with the PT, such as access to consumer goods. But on the other, there is a feeling of indignation as the process of life getting better has been interrupted.
"They recognize the improvements – but they want more," says Paulino
For Ricardo Ribeiro, analyst with MCM Consultancy, "where there is a real battle between the PT and PSDB is among middle class voters who do not depend upon the main bolsa familia social program" to supplement the wages of the poorest "but (who) can benefit from other grants."
Such aid includes state help with university fees and other studies as well as housing programs for families who Ribeiro indicates generally may espouse "traditional middle class values."
The financial world is meanwhile solidly behind Neves, criticizing Rousseff for economic micro-management and excessive state reach while allowing inflation to breach a government ceiling target of 6.5%.
Rising anti-PT tide
"After 12 years of PT rule there is a rising anti-PT tide – this election is more polarized than any we have seen since 1989," says political consultant Andre Cesar.
"That is a bad thing for the next president as he (or she if Rousseff retains her post) will inherit a divided country with an economy in the doldrums and a fragmented Congress comprising 28 parties." – Rappler.com-