Oct 5, 2014 12:05 AM

Brazilians vote in election full of surprises

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The twists and turns in Brazil's presidential race ended for at least a few hours on Sunday as millions of Brazilians cast ballots in an election expected to force a runoff between incumbent Dilma Rousseff and one of her two top challengers.

Rousseff held a commanding lead in all recent opinion polls, with her support rising to 46 percent in a survey released hours before the vote. But even the leader said it was unlikely she could push through to win the absolute majority required to avoid a second-round election.

"I'm not operating with that idea, I'm working with the idea there will be a runoff," Rousseff said just before casting her vote early Sunday in southern Brazil, where she lived for many years and first entered politics.

She'll likely face either former environment minister and senator Marina Silva or Aecio Neves, the former governor of Brazil's second-biggest state, both of whom also cast their ballots and flashed V for victory signs and big smiles. They were deadlocked in the most recent surveys, following Silva's steep drop in polls after aggressive campaigning by Rousseff.

"The fear campaign that Dilma and her marketing people have set up against Marina Silva has had a strong effect," said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia. "Dilma's people are saying Marina will abolish ... things they've gained through government social programs."

That's the heart of an apparent contradiction of this unpredictable campaign that saw Silva only enter the race in mid-August when a plane crash killed Eduardo Campos, her Social Party's top candidate, with whom she was running as the vice presidential candidate.

Opinion surveys say around 70 percent of Brazilians say they want change as made plain by mammoth anti-government protests held around the country last year blasting Brazil's woeful public services despite the nation's heavy tax burden.

Yet surveys also find that nearly three-fourths of Brazilians say they are satisfied with their lives.

"They want more of the same and that is what Dilma is offering," Fleischer said.

During the nearly 12 years in power for Rousseff's Workers' Party, strong social programs have helped lift millions out of poverty and into the middle class. Rousseff's strongest support comes from the poorest, those who are precariously hanging onto gains amid an economy that has sputtered during the past four years.

"I don't think a sudden change would be good for the country. That could be dangerous," said Diego Almeida, a 26-year-old university student and resident of Rio's biggest slum, who said he voted for Rousseff.

Despite voting for the incumbent, he expressed the frustration millions of Brazilians have with their leaders, saying "they've had 500 years to fix this country and for 500 years they've failed. I just hope that something happens in the next 500 years."

To keep Brazil moving forward, Rousseff promised to expand her social programs and to continue strong state involvement in the economy, even though critics complain it creates a poor business environment and the main stock market tumbled every time a new poll showed her on the rise.

Both Silva and Neves offered more centrist economic approaches - such as central bank independence, more privatizations and the pursuit of trade deals with Europe and the United States.

After voting, Silva said that she was "confident we will get to the second round. We put up a good fight and, God willing, we'll reach the runoff."

Neves, whose campaign gained momentum in the past week as he erased the lead Silva held over him, expressed optimism that he would be Rousseff's opponent in the second round, and that he'd "love to talk" to Silva about gaining her support.

Brazilians, who are also deciding congressional races and electing governors, are voting with electronic machines Sunday and results are expected to be known within hours of poll closing at 5 p.m. local time in the country's far west.


Associated Press writers Jenny Barchfield in Rio de Janeiro and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.


Brad Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks


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