After dramatic race, familiar runoff in Brazil

After dramatic race, familiar runoff in Brazil

BRASILIA, Brazil - After a presidential campaign steeped in drama, Brazilians opted Sunday for a relatively undramatic runoff election featuring the two parties that have governed for the past 20 years.

Frustrated with an economic slowdown and corrupt politicians, voters flirted for weeks with Socialist candidate Marina Silva's promise of a "new politics," but ultimately relegated the popular environmentalist to third place, dashing her hopes to become Brazil's first black president.

In the end, political analysts said, it was not Silva but business favourite Aecio Neves, a lifelong member of the political elite, whose momentum impressed on election day and put him through to the second round with incumbent Dilma Rousseff on October 26.

"Neves, who looked condemned to the shadows a month ago in the face of Silva and Rousseff's dominance in the polls, arose from the ashes and surprised with a much better score than expected," said Andre Cesar of consultancy Prospectiva.

"That means he arrives much stronger for the second round, which will be fought vote by vote." Rousseff, whose Workers' Party (PT) has governed for the past 12 years, finished with 42 per cent of the first-round vote. Neves, whose Social Democrats (PSDB) ruled for eight years before that, finished with 34 per cent.

Silva's final total - 21 per cent of the vote - was almost 13 percentage points down from her highest poll results in early September. That was just over two weeks after she took the place of late runningmate Eduardo Campos following his death in a plane crash.

Campos had been in third place behind Neves, but Silva galvanized the race within days, shooting up in the polls, which forecast she would beat Rousseff in the runoff.

But her star soon waned amid attacks from both Rousseff and Neves.

Rousseff, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's handpicked successor, now seems poised to keep the PT in office for a fourth term.

"The Brazilian elector wanted to vote for what he knows. The traditional parties came through," said Brasilia University political science professor David Fleischer.

Chasing the Marina vote

With Silva out of the race, the chase is now on for the 22 million people who voted for her.

She has not yet endorsed either Rousseff or Neves, despite his post-poll courting.

"How Marina Silva's vote shares out will be key. If her supporters plump for Aecio Neves, he will be in a position to turn things around in his favour in the second round," said Daniel Barcelos Vargas, analyst with the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Taken together, the Silva and Neves camps took 55 per cent of the vote Sunday.

And polls show that around 60 per cent of Silva's voters will now switch to Neves.

A poll by the Ibope Institute this week showed 39 per cent of Brazilians will stay loyal to the PT but that 33 per cent of voters will vote against.

"There is a desire for change from people, especially in the upper classes, who are unhappy with a tanking economy amid four years of sluggish growth," said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves of Eurasia Group.

"But there is also strong defence of the PT's social policy accomplishments during Rousseff's four years, indeed the 12 the party has been in power," he said, predicting the incumbent would win.

Cesar, however, predicted both had equal chances of winning.

"The powerful structures of the PT and public administration favour the incumbent, as does a broad party alliance," he said.

"But mitigating against her is an economy which is falling to pieces and showing no sign of improvement. Neves sets off a strong, structured party and his support much galvanized by this result."

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