Brazil's presidential race a close contest

July 9, 2010 at 12:39 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, July 9 (UPI) -- The outcome of Brazil's presidential election Oct. 3 is now seen less likely to be exactly as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wished it to be -- his protege Dilma Rousseff installed as his successor and inheritor of his populist legacy.

Several factors threaten to pull the rug from under Lula's daring stratagem -- not least of those being an increasing criticism of Rousseff's lack of experience and, what some critics consider worse, her scant contribution to the ruling Workers Party.

Added to those oft-repeated criticisms is yet another alleged flaw now highlighted with gusto by the opposition -- Rousseff's radical credentials or rather the lack of them.

Rousseff was picked by Lula as the executor of his political will and vision for posterity while she worked as his chief of staff. Lula himself is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

But, in some analysts' view, Lula's support for Rousseff may well be part of a longer-term strategy to return to the contest after Rousseff -- if elected -- completes her four-year term. A question is that Rousseff's own plans if and when she gets elected remain yet unknown.

This week, however, Rousseff's comfortable voter approval ratings came under fire from more radical elements within the ruling Workers Party coalition. Opposition presidential candidate Jose Serra also challenged Rousseff's self-proclaimed "radical" positions, prompting her to pull the text of her election program from the Internet and republish it after major modifications.

Rousseff blamed Workers Party radicals for the initial text ascribed to her views on key issues of interest to Brazilian electorate.

Despite Brazil's exemplary economic performance and Lula's 80 percent approval ratings, double those for either Rousseff or Serra, the election campaign is dominated by issues of poverty, crime and violence, land ownership among landless farmers, an unequal distribution of urban wealth, and fiery rhetoric over abortion in the world's largest Roman Catholic country.

Politicians of all persuasions have issued prescriptive and often impractical programs to address those issues, which have remained unresolved over many decades. Calls for addressing problems of poverty and crime and for taxing the super rich have gained momentum as the campaign for the October election gets under way.

Serra said the ruling Workers Party had a "hidden" radical "soul" that veiled its true agenda while trying to hoodwink the electorate. He said the party has "not one face, but several faces."

Serra, a former governor of the Sao Paolo state, has caught up with Rousseff in recent weeks with his attacks on the government's poor record on fighting crime and health care

Workers Party president Jose Dutra also warned that Rousseff, if elected, would not enjoy the same amount of freedom in her presidency as Lula da Silva.

He said Rousseff was "never chosen by the party as presidential candidate" but chosen by Lula "whom we much respect."

Latest public opinion polls gave both Rousseff and Serra voter approval in the range of 39-40 percent -- a close contest.

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who left the ruling Workers Party before entering the race, is pushing herself as a third way and is tipped in some polls to be commanding up to 30 percent of the vote.

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