Brazilians go to the polls in nail-biter election for president

domingo 5 de octubre de 2014 01:00 GYT

By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO Oct 5 (Reuters) - Brazilians vote Sunday in the most unpredictable presidential election in decades and the first since the end of an economic boom underpinning the leftist Workers' Party's 12-year rule.

As President Dilma Rousseff seeks a second term, voters are weighing whether the socioeconomic gains of the last decade are enough to reject the candidacies of a popular environmentalist and a pro-business social democrat, who both promise to jumpstart the economy after four years of lackluster growth.

Polls now show Rousseff as the front runner in a race that is likely to go to a runoff on Oct. 26, following one of the most competitive campaigns since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985. The death of one candidate, the unexpected surge of another, and bitter marketing by Rousseff to claw back into the lead have contributed to a nail-biter election as uncertain as the course of the country itself.

"It really is too close to call," said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst with Tendencias, a consultancy in Sao Paulo. "Volatility and frustration favor opposition candidates, but you don't really have a crisis to topple the government, either."

Rousseff's main rivals are Marina Silva, a hero of the global conservation movement and ruling party defector now with the Brazilian Socialist Party, and Aecio Neves, a senator and former state governor from the centrist party that laid the groundwork for Brazil's economic boom last decade.

The two opposition candidates, in a last-minute sprint for runner-up, both vow to return to the market-friendly economic policies that critics say Rousseff abandoned, especially strict budget and inflation targets. They also promise to stop meddling with the big, state-run banks and companies that have been subject to political intervention and corruption scandals in recent years.

"It's shameful what has happened to our public companies," Neves complained Thursday night during the final televised debate among the candidates, citing a multi-million dollar kickback scandal now roiling state-run energy company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.

After trailing Silva for most of the campaign, Neves may have built up enough momentum to advance to a runoff against Rousseff. Three polls on Saturday showed Neves slightly ahead of Silva.   Continuación...