Brazil’s Rousseff May Win in First Round, Poll Shows

Dilma Rousseff, the chosen successor of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, may beat her rival presidential candidate Jose Serra in the first round of the October election, according to a poll released today.

Rousseff, Lula’s former cabinet chief, was supported by 46 percent of those surveyed in a Sensus poll conducted for the National Transport Confederation. Former Sao Paulo Governor Serra had 28.1 percent, and Green Party candidate Marina Silva had 8.1 percent, according to the poll taken Aug. 20-22. That gives Rousseff more support than all other candidates combined.

In the previous Sensus survey, released Aug. 5, the Workers’ Party’s Rousseff had 41.6 percent, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party’s Serra had 31.6 percent and Silva had 8.5 percent.

“There was an extremely strong transfer of votes from Lula to her,” said Ricardo Guedes, the Sensus institute director. “She has incorporated the role of Lula’s successor and is profiting from the government’s economic performance.”

The nationwide poll surveyed 2,000 people and has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points. The first round of the election will be held Oct. 3. A candidate must garner more than 50 percent of valid votes to win in the first round.

Rousseff is “headed for a landslide first-round victory,” Christopher Garman, the Eurasia Group’s director for Latin America, said in an e-mailed report. “An incoming Rousseff administration will most likely begin with overtures to control the pace of expenditure growth.”

Central Bank Policies

Facing off in their first televised debate Aug. 5, Rousseff and Serra disagreed on the need for new policies to bring down interest rates that are among the highest in the world.

Rousseff, 62, said rates will continue falling if the current economic course is maintained. Serra said more “adequate” policies are needed to make room for further reductions.

Serra, 68, has frequently criticized Brazil´s central bank, which he said waited too long to cut interest rates following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008. In May, he said the central bank shouldn’t be treated like the Vatican and that as president he would point out policy makers’ mistakes.

Both candidates support the central bank’s operational autonomy.

First-Time Candidate

Policy makers have raised the benchmark Selic interest rate in the past three meetings to 10.75 percent from 8.75 percent in March. After running for seven straight months above the government’s target, annual inflation slowed to 4.4 percent in the month through mid-August, the national statistics agency said Aug. 20. Policy makers target 4.5 percent inflation, plus or minus two percentage points.

Rousseff, who has never run for elected office, grew up in Belo Horizonte, the daughter of a lawyer and entrepreneur. In the late 1960s she took up arms against Brazil´s 1964-1985 military dictatorship on behalf of the clandestine group known as VAR-Palmares. She was imprisoned and tortured.

Serra, who spent 14 years exiled mostly in Chile and in the U.S. for opposing the military regime, lost a presidential runoff to Lula in October 2002, taking 39 percent of the votes to Lula’s 61 percent.

The son of Italian immigrants, Serra studied civil engineering at Sao Paulo University, where he became a student activist. He resumed his studies in economics while living in Chile.

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