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Brazil vote highlights social divide

By Reuters in Rio De Janeiro | China Daily | Updated: 2014-10-27 07:59

Opinion polls forecast close finish between leftist, pro-business parties

Brazilians went to the polls on Sunday in a bitterly contested election that pits a leftist president with strong support among the poor against a centrist senator who is promising pro-business policies to jump-start a stagnant economy.

Polls give a slight edge to incumbent Dilma Rousseff, 66, who is seeking a second four-year term. Her Workers' Party has held power for 12 years and leveraged an economic boom to expand social welfare programs and lift over 40 million people from poverty.

But many voters believe Aecio Neves, a 54-year-old former state governor, with strong support among upper-middle class and wealthy Brazilians, offers a much-needed changing of the guard for Latin America's biggest economy. A decade of growth peaked at 7.5 percent in 2010 and has flagged since Rousseff took office.

Despite acrimonious finger-pointing and corruption scandals that have characterized the campaign since a first-round vote on Oct 5, voters are likely to be divided between those who feel better off than they did before the Workers' Party took office and those who believe its reign, no matter how successful, is no longer producing results.

"Forget the noise on both sides," said Alexandre Barros, a political consultant in Brasilia, the capital. "This is about an individual choice by each voter - what's in it for me?"

Rousseff has promised to deepen flagship welfare programs and seek to restore growth with a new economic team.

Neves also vows to keep the social benefits while adopting more market-friendly fiscal measures to rein in public spending, take a tougher stance against inflation and give the central bank more autonomy to set monetary policy.

The choice takes Brazil back to a clash between classes in a country still riven by inequality.

It also reverts to a long-standing rivalry between the Workers' Party, with roots in Brazil's labor movement, and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which held power for two terms before Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Rousseff's mentor and predecessor, was elected in 2002.

Two closely watched polls on the eve of the runoff showed Rousseff with a lead of as much as 6 percentage points.

Earlier in the day, however, a smaller poll swung in favor of Neves, who surprised in the first round of voting earlier this month by surging from a distant third place in polls to clinch second place.

Pollsters faced widespread criticism for failing to pinpoint Neves' strong showing then, and he himself has dismissed them as unreliable.

If the vote were about the economy alone, Rousseff would have a hard time winning.

(China Daily 10/27/2014 page12)

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