A poster showing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, right, and Dilma Rousseff, who leads by a wide margin in opinion surveys. A scandal did not diminish her lead much in the polls.
Brazilian Leader’s Protégée Likely to Prevail in Election
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Though Dilma Rousseff is a political novice and lacks the charisma of her former boss, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, voters appear likely to make her the first woman to be president of Brazil in Sunday’s election.
Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, and Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff greeted supporters during a campaign rally.
Opinion surveys show her leading by a wide margin and suggest that she could get more than 50 percent plus one vote of the valid vote, enough to squeak by and avoid a runoff.
Ms. Rousseff, 62, was able to ride Mr. da Silva’s popularity and make the election essentially a referendum on his eight years in office, a period of widespread prosperity that cemented the country as a rising global player.
“This turned out to be a predictable plebiscite, a thumbs-up for the Lula years,” said Timothy J. Power, director of the Latin American Center at the University of Oxford.
Mr. da Silva spent the better part of a year trying to introduce his chosen successor to Brazilians. She was initially unknown to the masses and not very dynamic in public.
Mr. da Silva joined himself to her hip, crisscrossing the country to campaign on her behalf. He trumpeted his government’s accomplishments and passed some of the credit to Ms. Rousseff, who also formerly served as his minister of energy and mines and as chairwoman of Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company.
Last year there was some concern that he would stick with Ms. Rousseff as the Workers’ Party candidate after she was given a diagnosis of lymphatic cancer. After chemotherapy treatment, which led her to wear a wig for several weeks, doctors said her cancer had been driven into remission.
Still, not even a scandal involving Ms. Rousseff’s successor as chief of staff has been able to diminish her lead much in the polls.
Two weeks ago, media reports here accused Erenice Guerra, who took over for Ms. Rousseff in April so that she could campaign, of participating in an influence-peddling scheme with her son involving kickbacks for public works contracts. Mr. da Silva swiftly asked for Ms. Guerra’s resignation and managed to contain the scandal. Ms. Rousseff was never linked directly to any wrongdoing.
Ms. Rousseff appeared to have taken a slight dip in the polls at that time, but she has recovered. In the latest poll, conducted Sept. 28 and 29 by Datafolha, a Brazilian polling company, Ms. Rousseff was backed by 52 percent of voters; among her rivals, José Serra, the former governor of São Paulo, had 31 percent and Marina Silva, Mr. da Silva’s popular former environment minister, had 15 percent. But with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points, it is impossible for the poll to suggest that a runoff would be unnecessary.
Polling data showed that the scandal only seemed to resonate with upper-income voters, while her support from the poor, which benefited greatly under Mr. da Silva, held strong.
Barring any major surprises, even if Ms. Rousseff does not prevail Sunday she would be all but assured a victory in an Oct. 31 runoff, analysts said.
The campaign was devoid of big issues that divided the candidates. Mr. Serra, who ran for president in 2002, tried to campaign on his deep political experience as a governor, senator and health minister under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He tried to bill himself as a better continuation candidate than Ms. Rousseff. An early campaign slogan was “Brazil can do more,” and he used images in his television time of him working side-by-side with Mr. da Silva.
Analysts said that Mr. Serra’s strategy was confusing, but that he never really had a chance once Ms. Rousseff became better known as the president’s pick.
Mr. da Silva, whose approval ratings hover around 80 percent, deepened the economic policies begun under Mr. Cardoso, policies that have won him wide support, especially among the poor in the northeast and among a rapidly growing lower-middle class.
Ms. Rousseff has vowed to create millions more jobs and housing units for Brazilians, and to deepen the infrastructure development of the country.
Whether Ms. Rousseff or Mr. Serra wins will matter little for Brazil’s economic policy direction, analysts say. While some predict that Ms. Rousseff, who was a guerrilla fighter in the 1960s battling the military dictatorship, will steer Brazil left, favoring a larger role for the state in the economy, most see her as a pragmatist in the mold of Mr. da Silva, who initially drew similar concerns.
But few see the next president, whether it is Ms. Rousseff or Mr. Serra, as having the same swagger on the international stage that Mr. da Silva had.
Despite having only a fourth-grade education, Mr. da Silva, a former union leader, used his emotional and charismatic personality to win over leaders in the region and abroad.
During his time in office, Brazil secured the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He engaged Brazil in Middle East politics, forging warm ties with Iran, to the chagrin of the United States.
“Lula is a hard act to follow in terms of the public face of Brazil,” Mr. Power said. “The foreign policy goals will be the same, but the presidentially led diplomacy, the summitry, will be dialed back.”
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