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Rising Political Star Upends Brazil Presidential Race
Brazils newest presidential candidate, Marina Silva, has pulled ahead of incumbent Dilma Rousseff, upending a race the challenger entered as an official candidate less than a week ago, according to a new poll.
Data released Tuesday evening showed that Ms. Silva, an environmental activist and the newly minted Socialist Party candidate, would garner 45% of the likely vote in a runoff, compared with 36% for Ms. Rousseff of the Workers Party. The survey, conducted by the polling institute Ibope, has a margin of error of two percentage points, giving Ms. Silva a comfortable lead at this point in the race.
Ms. Rousseff leads the survey in the first round of balloting, scheduled for Oct. 5, with 34% of the prospective vote, according to Ibope, compared with 29% for Ms. Silva and 19% for Aecio Neves, a pro-business candidate with the Brazilian Social Democracy Party. However, a runoff is all but certain as no candidate appears likely to capture the more than 50% needed to win the first round.
The numbers came just hours ahead of the first presidential debate in which Ms. Silva came out swinging, attacking Ms. Rousseff after the president boasted of her governments accomplishments.
“The first thing (needed) to fight problems is to recognize they exist,” Ms. Silva said. “This Brazil that President Dilma is showing, colorful, almost like a movie, doesnt exist in people´s lives.”
Ms. Silva didnt spare Mr. Neves, either, criticizing his record on education as governor of the state of Minas Gerais. The format of the debate allowed reporters and candidates to pick who they wanted to answer questions, and Ms. Silva was a popular target, allowing her to speak repeatedly and confidently about her wish for an inclusive government that will improve education, public safety and health care.
Political scientist Carlos Melo said Ms. Silva is tapping into widespread public dissatisfaction with traditional politics and the parties that have governed Brazil for about two decades.
Millions of Brazilians took to the streets last year, protesting government corruption, shoddy public services and overspending on the World Cup and Olympics.
“She is on the rise. She has become the hit of the moment,” said Mr. Melo, a professor at Insper, an education and research center in São Paulo. “The rise of Marinas candidacy is the result of the Brazilian peoples fatigue” with politics as usual, he said.
The Ibope survey is the second consecutive poll showing Ms. Silva leading Ms. Rousseff in a runoff, a sharp turn of events since Ms. Silva has only been an official presidential candidate since Aug. 20.
She was previously the running mate of Socialist Party presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, who failed to gain traction with voters. When he died in a plane crash earlier this month, Ms. Silva vaulted to the top of the ticket to become a presidential contender.
Ms. Silva—the mixed-race daughter of impoverished rubber tappers, an evangelical Christian and an environmentalist—has shown an ability to appeal to a wide spectrum of voters.
The former senator and environmental minister won nearly 20% of the vote in a 2010 presidential run.
Still, Ms. Silva will face tough scrutiny as attacks from rivals eager to deflate her aura and slow her momentum.
Ms. Rousseff, who is seeking a second term, is already sowing doubts about Ms. Silvas experience and ability to govern.
“We cant rule out the power of Dilma Rousseff because she has the government machine behind her,” Cristiano Noronha, vice president of political consulting group Arko Advice in Brasilia.
However, Ms. Silvas entry into the race has turned the tables on Mr. Neves, who until just a few weeks ago appeared on his way to a second-round runoff with Ms. Rousseff.
A pro-business candidate favored by industry, he rose in the polls by criticizing Ms. Rousseffs stewardship of the stumbling economy. Still, Mr. Neves has battled the perception that he would only represent Brazils elite.
“The big loser is Aecio Neves and I see few chances for him to turn things around,” Mr. Noronha said.
Ms. Silvas economic vision is so far less well defined. She has surrounded herself with respected economic advisers and said she would abide by her predecessors aims of attacking inflation and simplifying Brazils cumbersome tax code.
Her plans for the economy and other important issues will no doubt be studied closely in coming weeks. Analysts said she would need to be extremely careful to avoid mistakes that will be used against her by her rivals.
But for now, voters appear to be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Tendencias Consultoria Integrada in São Paulo. “The race for the presidential election is not decided but Marina has the lead now and could be elected president in 2014,” he said.