Brazilian environmentalist upends presidential election race

Brazilian environmentalist upends presidential election race

Ukraine, BRASILIA (Reuters) - Environmentalist Marina Silva could defeat President Dilma Rousseff if Brazil's October election goes to a second-round run-off, according to a new poll that saw the challenger entering the race in second place.

Silva, now with support of 21 per cent of voters, has drawn almost three times more backing than the late centre-left candidate Eduardo Campos who she is poised to replace in the race after his death last week in a plane crash.

The contest is being closely watched by investors weary of slow growth and state interference in Latin America's largest economy under the leftist Rousseff, and they are hoping to see a more market-friendly leader take office.

Support for Rousseff in the Datafolha poll released on Monday was unchanged at 36 per cent and remained at 20 per cent for centrist and market favourite Aecio Neves.

It showed that Silva would deprive Rousseff of the votes needed to win the Oct. 5 election outright and surpass her in a second-round runoff by 47 per cent against 43 per cent, within the poll's margin of error.

Silva, who won 19.3 per cent in the 2010 presidential election as the Green Party candidate, is also statistically tied with Neves, who would lose a runoff against Rousseff by eight percentage points if he went through, the poll showed.

Campos was killed in an Aug. 13 plane crash and his Brazilian Socialist Party plans to launch Silva as its presidential candidate on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of Brazilians gathered on Sunday in the northeastern city of Recife to bid farewell to Campos, a successful two-time governor of Pernambuco state.

The poll conducted Aug. 14-16 was the first based on Silva's expected election run and could be skewed by a sympathy vote. The numbers could change when Silva hits the campaign trail and begins to define her policies.

Silva draws the support of many disenchanted Brazilians who were not planning to vote but will do so now that she will be top of the ticket, Datafolha said. While support for Rousseff and Neves remained stable, Silva gained 13 percentage points from undecided voters and supporters of smaller candidates.

Her rejection numbers are also much lower: 11 per cent said they would never vote for Silva, versus 34 per cent for Rousseff.

Silva appeals to young voters disillusioned with Brazil's establishment and seeking an alternative to the two-decades-old rivalry between Rousseff's Workers' Party and Neves' Brazilian Social Democratic Party.

The daughter of illiterate rubber-tappers who turned to politics to defend the Amazon rainforest, Silva has an anti-establishment style endearing to Brazilians who took to the streets last year to protest against corruption, the high cost of living and inadequate public services.

A devout Pentecostal Christian, she also has a loyal following among evangelical voters, an increasingly influential segment of the Brazilian electorate.

Silva's conservationist views have put her at odds with Brazil's powerful agribusiness lobby, though her economic advisers say she has become more pragmatic since she held up licenses for roads and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon region as environment minister in the first Workers' Party government.

While Silva is an unknown quantity to many investors, they would rather see her win than Rousseff.

After falling on the news of Campos' death, Brazil's main stocks index made strong gains on Friday on prospects of a Rousseff defeat in October, especially shares for state-run companies that have lost market value during an administration marked by state intervention in the economy.

The poll of 2,843 eligible voters had a margin of error of 2 percentage points and was published on the website of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

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