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Race for the Planalto: A look at the candidates

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-09-23

On October 3 Brazilians will choose the next occupant of the Planalto presidential palace. If needed, a run-off poll is scheduled for October 31. France 24 takes a look at the main candidates vying to lead Latin America's biggest country.


Brazilians vote for a new president on October 3. The wildly popular outgoing president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – better known as Lula is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term.
Since rising to power on a wave of popular enthusiasm in 2002, Lula, a former union leader, disenchanted the most radical members of his Workers’ Party who had yearned for a clean break from the capitalist model. But the president has won the hearts and minds of wide swaths of Brazil’s hugely diverse electorate, increasing social welfare programmes and steering the country through the global recession.
While there are nine candidates on the ballot, the real contest is between Lula’s chosen heir, Dilma Rousseff, and veteran politician José Serra, who represents a coalition of centre-right and right-wing parties.
If no candidate wins more than half of all votes in the first round, Brazilians will return to the ballot box on October 31 for a run-off poll.

Dilma Rousseff – Workers’ Party (PT)
Dilma Rousseff, 62, is hoping to become the first woman president of Latin America’s largest country. She was outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff from 2005, before quitting in April to run as his successor.
The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and Brazilian mother, Rousseff enjoyed a privileged childhood. She joined the underground student resistance against the military dictatorship that came to power in 1964, and was imprisoned for three years and tortured.
A trained economist, she was serving as the secretary of energy and mining for the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul when Lula picked her in 2002 to head the country’s vital energy ministry.
She has been touted as the driving force behind Brazil’s National Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC), a massive infrastructure and housing project designed to boost the country’s economy.
Rousseff has never been elected to civil office, but she enjoys the full support of an extremely popular outgoing president. She has promised to continue delivering Lula’s mix of market-friendly policies and social welfare.

José Serra - Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB)
José Serra
, 68, has trumpeted his vast experience in public office, including terms as mayor of Sao Paulo, governor of the state of Sao Paulo and federal health minister from 1998 to 2002, in an effort to convince Brazilians he is the most qualified candidate.
He was born in Sao Paulo to poor Italian immigrants, and was the first member of his family to attend university. Serra was head of the National Student Union at the time of the military coup and escaped a three-year prison sentence by exiling himself in Chile and later in the United States.
Serra received a Ph.D. in Economics from Cornell University before returning home in 1978. He then embarked on a long career in politics, which has included posts as a federal deputy, senator and as the head of two ministries under former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
The centre-right candidate made a first bid for the presidency in 2002, losing to Lula. He stepped down from his job as governor this year to once again accept his party’s presidential candidacy.
Serra has criticised Lula’s government for making slow progress in building up infrastructure and for its reticence in securing free trade agreements. But he has also earmarked the improvement of medical services for ordinary Brazilians as a pillar of his campaign.

Marina Silva – Green Party (PV)
Marina Silva, 52, is a senator from the jungle state of Acre, whose life story mirrors Lula’s own rise from poverty to political influence. Running for the Green Party, Silva is not expected to attract enough support to win the election, but could wield an important measure of influence over the final results.

Silva was one of eleven children in a rubber-tapper family in the Amazon. She was illiterate until the age of 16 and worked as a maid while completing her studies. She rose to prominence working alongside rainforest activist Chico Mendes. In 1994, then 36-year-old Silva became Brazil’s youngest-ever federal senator.
Silva played a key role in efforts to slow down the rate of deforestation as Lula’s environmental minister. She nonetheless quit her job in 2008 over differences with the government and left the Workers’ Party in August 2009.
Silva is a member of the Assembly of God church, Brazil’s largest Pentecostal denomination. Besides courting environmentally conscious voters, she could also be the favourite candidate among the country's growing body of evangelical Christians.


Date created : 2010-09-03


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