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Brazil rivals to court green candidate ahead of runoff

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-10-29

After she charmed nearly 20 percent of voters in Brazil's presidential election, Green Party candidate Marina Silva’s endorsement for the second round is worth gold.

Brazil’s presidential election is heading for an October 31 runoff, with the two remaining candidates appealing to third-placed Marina Silva after the Green Party candidate pooled an impressive 19.3 percent of votes in Sunday’s poll.

MARINA SILVA – GREEN PARTY

In his first speech after the official results, Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate Jose Serra, who secured 32.6 percent of votes, congratulated Silva in an obvious overture for her support. “I wanted to congratulate Marina Silva for her strong vote,” said a jubilant Serra. “She has contributed to the democratic process in Brazil.”

Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Dilma Rousseff remains the strong favourite, having picked up 46.9 percent of the vote on Sunday. But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's former cabinet chief was visibly disappointed to be forced into a second round. Opinion polls had predicted Rousseff would become Brazil’s first woman president in a resounding first-round victory.

In her own speech to supporters, an emotional and focused Silva said her endorsement would be decided during a party meeting, but that she would also consult other groups that had backed her bid for the presidency.

Silva outperformed even the most generous opinion polls, which only one week ago had predicted a tally of 15 percent of ballots at best. On Monday, her website proudly proclaimed that “with 20 percent Marina is the big winner of the first round.” That 20 percent of Brazil’s electorate is now key to the Rousseff and Serra camps.

Patching up with the PT?

Silva, 52, is a senator from the jungle state of Acre, whose life story mirrors President Lula’s own rise from poverty to political prominence.

Silva was born to 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 environment minister. She nonetheless quit her job in 2008 over differences with the government and left the PT in August 2009.

Since joining the race for the Planalto presidential palace, Silva has secured a number of high-profile endorsements, including those of prominent senator Pedro Simon, singer Caetono Veloso (who also campaigned for her) and even Brazilian supermoder Gisele Bündchen.

Silva is a member of the Assembly of God church, Brazil’s largest Pentecostal denomination. Some Brazilian observers said her better-than expected results may be attributed to the country's growing body of evangelical Christians.

In a country used to runoff elections, Rousseff is still expected to win Brazil’s presidency. But the PT candidate can no longer disregard Marina Silva’s endorsement in her bid to the country’s top office.

After falling out with the PT, Marina Silva and Brazil’s nascent Green Party look ready to regain Brasilia; but this time, on Silva’s terms.

Top photo courtesy of Flckr user Cacá Meirelles, under the Creative Commons license.

Date created : 2010-10-04

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