Brazil Presidential Candidates Battle on Privatization in Debate

Brazilian presidential frontrunner Dilma Rousseff and her opponent Jose Serra clashed over privatization while making no mention of abortion in their second head-to-head debate before an Oct. 31 runoff election.

The candidates reiterated charges over sales of state assets, with Rousseff, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s handpicked successor, saying Serra is against initiatives to strengthen government-controlled companies such as oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

The ruling Workers Party candidate said the state of Sao Paulo, where Serra was governor before starting his campaign, is appealing to antitrust regulators to block the sale of Gas Brasiliano Distribuidora SA, a unit of Italy’s Eni SpA, to Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras for $235 million. Serra denied that his state government had any authority over the transaction.

Rousseff’s campaign “lies about my positions on Petrobras,” Serra, 68, said. “It’s curious that when my advance in polls was reported, Petrobras shares rose.”

The debate came as polls show the race tightening. The 62-year-old Rousseff leads Serra 47 percent to 41 percent, a Datafolha poll published Oct. 15 said, compared with 48-41 on Oct. 9. The survey, commissioned by Folha de S. Paulo newspaper and Rede Globo television channel, interviewed 3,281 people and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

First Round Results

Rousseff won 47 percent of the first-round vote on Oct. 3, compared with 33 percent for Serra and 19 percent for the Green Party’s Marina Silva, a pro-life, evangelical Christian.

Neither Serra nor Rousseff mentioned abortion last night after clashing over the issue in their first head-to-head contest Oct. 10. Serra criticized Rousseff’s comments in a videotaped interview from July, circulated on the Internet, that abortion must be treated as a “public health issue” rather than a religious one.

That remark may have cost her votes and pushed the election into a runoff. The issue dominated campaigning in the two weeks since the first round, as both candidates appealed to the voters who cast ballots for Marina Silva.

Abortion is legal in Brazil only if a pregnancy results from a rape or if it puts the mother’s life at risk.

Silva said yesterday she won’t support either of the runoff candidates as her Green Party decided to remain independent. Members of the party are allowed as individuals to support Rousseff or Serra, Silva said during a speech in Sao Paulo.

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