A nationally televised debate on Sunday in the run-up to Brazil’s October 3 general elections saw a new level of aggressiveness between the presidential hopefuls. Previous debates offered little excitement for voters, whom polls suggest overwhelmingly support the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Dilma Rousseff.
But in the latest debate, organised by daily newpaper La Folha de Sao Paulo and television station RedeTV!, Rousseff, 62, was forced to fend off a barrage of sharp-edged questions about her party’s relationship with the government of Iran, plus allegations of graft and corruption.
After asking Rousseff why the government nourished a relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the centre-right candidate denounced the “democracy of Dilma and the PT” as one that “uses the state apparatus to protect their comrades.”
Rousseff was blasted over what Serra claims are illegally accessed tax records belonging to his daughter and other PSDB members and used to create a smear campaign against them.
A journalist also asked Rousseff to comment on allegations that her former aide, Erenice Guerra, was involved in a kickback scheme for public works contracts run by her son’s consultancy.
Rousseff stood her ground, more at ease than during the first nationally televised debate in August, and often going on the offensive herself. A murmur rose from the keyed-up audience when Rousseff suggested Serra was resorting to last-ditch slander tactics to revive his ailing opinion polls.
Green party candidate Marina da Silva, on track to win 10 percent of votes, was overshadowed by the jousting between Rousseff and Serra, and even by laughter-provoking flare-ups by outsider candidate Plínio de Arruda Sampaio.
With President Lula exiting the Planalto presidential palace with approval ratings standing at more than 70 percent, Serra has refrained from openly attacking him or his government. Serra even chose to tie his own image to Lula’s early in the presidential campaign.
Sunday’s debate was a first departure from that posture, and could make for a more vibrant presidential contest.
If Rousseff fails to win 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.