BRASILIA - Brazil's two presidential candidates traded accusations of lies, corruption and nepotism on Tuesday night in a bruising television debate that had no clear winner ahead of the hotly contested Oct 26 election runoff.
Leftist incumbent President Dilma Rousseff warned Brazilians that the election of her pro-business challenger Aecio Neves would lead to unemployment and put at risk social benefits gained under 12 years of rule by her Workers' Party.
Neves charged that the Rousseff campaign propaganda was a pack of lies that had misinformed voters that he was planning to end cash transfer programs and privatize state banks.
The senator and former state governor hammered Rousseff for allowing state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA to be allegedly used to channel money from bribes to the Workers' Party and its allies in the governing coalition.
Rousseff retorted by pointing to an airport Neves built adjacent to an uncle's farm when he was governor of Minas Gerais state, and she accused him of nepotism by giving government jobs to a sister, uncles and cousins.
At the end of each round of the debate, aides rushed to help the candidates like seconds tending fighters in a boxing ring.
Neves, the market favourite, has gained ground since his surprise result in the first-round vote on Oct 5 when he bested environmentalist Marina Silva to place second behind Rousseff.
Surveys by Brazil's main polling firms Datafolha and Ibope show Rousseff and Neves running neck-and-neck in a race that is too close to call. New polls are expected on Wednesday.
In the narrowest election in decades, Brazilians have to chose between re-electing a government that has lifted millions from poverty or switching to more business-friendly policies advocated by Neves to pull the country out recession. "The Brazilian people are very scared," said Rousseff, recalling the 11 million unemployed that existed when her party took office from Neves' party in 2003.
Neves replied, "The fear in Brazilian society today is that the Workers' Party will continue in power for another four years."
Neves hopes to ride to victory on a widespread desire for change in Brazil.
Neves acknowledged big strides had been made in improving the social lot of Brazil's people under Rousseff's mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But he said Brazil had stopped growing under Rousseff and inflation was out of control. He vowed to restore credibility and investment flows.
Neves denied he would reduce the role of state banks such as Brazilian development bank BNDES, whose loan book is almost three times the size of the World Bank's. But he called for more transparency in the bank's lending, and disclosure of loans to communist-run Cuba to build a container port at Mariel.
Neves criticised Rousseff's government for paying 11,400 Cuban doctors working in Brazil one third of their salaries with the rest going to the Cuban government.