Runoff Spot Is Prize as Brazil Candidates Debate on TV

The leading challengers to incumbent Dilma Rousseff will be jockeying for a spot in the runoff when Brazilian presidential candidates meet in their first televised debate tonight.

Seven candidates will take part in the debate on Band TV, scheduled for 10 p.m. local time. Former Environment Minister Marina Silva and Senator Aecio Neves are statistically tied in second place with 21 percent and 20 percent support, respectively, according to an Aug. 14-15 Datafolha poll. Rousseff leads with 36 percent, less than the sum of the other ten candidates that she needs to secure a first round victory, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

“It’s a decisive debate,” said David Fleischer, professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. “It’ll really be about Aecio and Marina showing who is better able to get the country back on track.”

Silva, a 56-year-old former rubber tapper and dishwasher who first made her name fighting deforestation in the Amazon, will target voters beyond those dissatisfied with the government by showing she has a credible plan to boost growth, Walter Feldman, her campaign coordinator said.

Since she replaced Eduardo Campos of the Brazilian Socialist Party this month, following his death in a plane crash, Silva has adopted economic positions friendly to business leaders and investors, including support for formal central bank autonomy, spending cuts, and a slowing of inflation to 3 percent by the end of 2018 from 6.5 percent last month.

‘Not Prepared’

Such proposals echo those of Neves, a 54-year-old former governor of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais whose party has sought to discredit Silva’s ability to implement her plan.

“She is a good woman and is concerned with Brazil,” Luiz Pitiman, a lawmaker for Neves’s Brazilian Social Democracy Party, said in an interview. “But given her experience, the people she wants to bring on board, the model she proposes, she’s not prepared, especially on economic issues.”

Neves, who according to polls has a base among affluent Brazilians, is seeking to showcase his experience in executive office as an advantage over Silva, Pitiman said in an interview. To attract more votes from the poor, Neves has pledged to expand social programs implemented by Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

TV Debates

TV debates, which in past elections had a larger audience than the campaign ads that air daily, have been instrumental in shaping election results since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, Fleischer said.

Lula’s first bid for the presidency foundered in 1989 after a debate on TV Globo. His Workers’ Party complained that Globo subsequently broadcast edited versions of the debate that were biased against him. In 2006, Lula was forced into a runoff vote after he decided to skip a debate on TV Globo, polls showed. He ultimately won the election.

Growth in Brazil’s economy, the world’s seventh-largest, is slowing to 0.7 percent this year, according to the latest central bank survey, from 7.5 percent in 2010, the year before Rousseff took office.

The Ibovespa rallied 2.3 percent yesterday, the most among the world’s major stock benchmarks, on speculation election polls will show increasing support for Silva. The Sao Paulo stock exchange gauge has fallen 14 percent since Rousseff took office in January 2011. The real, the best performing major Latin American currency this year, has weakened 27 percent in the same period.

Narrowing Lead

Rousseff’s lead over Silva in a first-round vote may have dropped to about 5 percentage points, a government official with knowledge of internal polls, who asked not to be named because the surveys aren’t public, said in an interview yesterday.

While opposition candidates have focused on how accelerating inflation has eroded purchasing power, Rousseff said her government has managed to buffer the impact of a global economic crisis with job and income growth, and created social mobility through access to education and social welfare programs.

“I want to show the achievements of this country, I want to show this country changed,” Rousseff, 66, told reporters in Brasilia on Aug. 24. “The daughter of a bricklayer can become a doctor,” she said in reference to the opportunities lower-income classes now have.

Lula’s Legacy

In her campaign ads Rousseff has sought to take credit for the progress made during the two terms of her predecessor Lula, citing 36 million poor people who joined the middle class and a 60 percent increase in power generating capacity. Brazil’s economy expanded an average 4 percent per year during Lula’s 8 years in office.

Silva’s camp is trying to focus the campaign exclusively on the last four years since Rousseff took office.

“Under Lula there were advances, with Dilma there’s been a setback,” Feldman said in a phone interview. “Of course there’s going to be criticism but the debate is about showcasing Marina’s proposals.”

Silva placed third in the 2010 election after quitting Lula’s government and voicing concerns over the environmental impact of infrastructure projects spearheaded by then-Chief of Staff Rousseff.

“Aecio and Marina will both take shots at Dilma and her model of government but the main standoff is really between the two of them,” Carlos Manhanelli, a Sao Paulo-based electoral marketing consultant said in a phone interview. “It’s a race for the second round.”

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