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Marina brushes aside Dilma in poll

Brazil’s Socialist Party presidential candidate Marina Silva (centre top) poses for a photograph with supporters as she attends a rally campaign in Sao Paulo on Sunday.
In unexpected twist to the presidential race, Socialist Party candidate gains ground on Dilma Rousseff

BRASILIA — A new poll shows Marina Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party, the leading rival to Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff would defeat her in a second-round runoff vote in October’s election. The poll was conducted by the respected Ibope firm and was published yesterday on the Estado de Sao Paulo’s website.

It says 45 percent of respondents would vote for former environment minister Marina Silva in an expected second-round, compared to 36 percent for Rousseff.

Silva was the vice-presidential candidate with Eduardo Campos, but he died when his campaign plane crashed this month. Silva announced last week that she’s filling his spot on the Brazilian Socialist Party ticket.

Silva, who was thrust into the presidential race last week following the death of her party’s candidate, has 29 percent of voter support heading into the October 5 vote, according to the survey by polling institute Ibope.

The poll showed Rousseff with 34 percent, down from 38 percent in the previous Ibope survey in early August. The other main opposition candidate, Senator Aécio Neves, had 19 percent support, down from 23 percent in the last Ibope poll.

In a likely second-round runoff on October 26 between the top two vote-getters, Silva would defeat Rousseff by a margin of nine percentage points, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

A renowned defender of the Amazon rainforest who placed a strong third in the 2010 presidential election, Silva has upended this year’s race since declaring her candidacy last Wednesday. But many political analysts warn that both Rousseff and Neves have plenty of time, along with more powerful and better-funded parties behind them, to counter Silva’s rise before election day.

Silva surged 10 percentage points ahead of Neves, the centrist candidate favoured by investors, and now threatens to dislodge the ruling Workers’ Party in its toughest election since it won office in 2002, the Ibope poll showed.

Meanwhile, a separate poll due to be published today by the transport industry lobby CNT will also show Silva surging and support dropping for Rousseff and Neves, the CNT said in a statement yesterday.

“Silva is the favourite for the runoff, where she will draw more of Neves’s supporters than Rousseff,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at the Insper business school. “If she makes no mistakes, she will be in a very strong position.”

Silva’s big asset is her low rejection rate, just 10 percent compared with 36 percent of voters who said they would never vote for Rousseff, which indicates the president does not have much room to grow but her challenger does.

Despite Brazil’s high cost of living and a stalling economy, the Rousseff administration’s approval rating rose two percentage points to 34 percent, a number her party is bound to point to as evidence that things are not that bad.

“Marina has become the No. 1 factor in the election,” said a Rousseff campaign official who asked not to be named. Silva has become the catalyst of opposition sentiment, but now she will become the target of all the candidates, he said. “We have to see what the other campaigns will do to deconstruct her.” Analysts say Silva has benefited from sympathy over the tragic death of Eduardo Campos, who had invited her to join his ticket as his running-mate, and they will be watching a series of opinion polls this week to see if support for Silva wanes after the initial surge.

Anti-establishment figure

Silva is seen as an anti-establishment figure who could restore ethical principles to Brazilian politics and she appeals to voters who are disenchanted with Brazil’s main parties. A fervent evangelical Christian, she will also draw votes from this growing religious constituency.

The poll showed Silva stealing support from all candidates, including another evangelical candidate Pastor Everaldo, and drawing uncommitted voters into the election.

The prospect of Silva defeating Rousseff has rallied Brazil’s stock market for two weeks, with investors betting on an end to the leftist president’s interventionist economic policies, which have undermined business confidence in the once high-flying emerging market economy.

Yet Silva’s intransigent style of politics may make it difficult for her to build the coalitions with traditional political parties that she would need to govern Brazil if elected.

“The critical challenge for Marina over the next two weeks will be to transition from being a protest vote candidate to someone voters are willing and able to trust to lead the country,” the Eurasia political risk consultancy said in a note to clients.

Silva’s economic platform will be announced on Friday. While her policies remain a mystery, her top adviser, Eduardo Giannetti, has said they will be as orthodox and market-friendly as those of Neves.

Silva met recently with bankers in Sao Paulo and said, if elected, she would mostly delegate economic policy to a respected group of advisers. “I’m not going to try to manage something I don’t understand,” one banker present quoted her as saying.

Ibope surveyed 2,506 people nationwide between Aug. 23-26 for the poll, which was published on the website of the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

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