Workers' Party candidate Dilma Rousseff is widely tipped to become Brazil's first woman president on Sunday as voters elect a successor to popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
REUTERS - Brazilians voted for president on Sunday and were likely to hand victory to the ruling party's Dilma Rousseff, who has vowed to build on an unprecedented run of prosperity that has lifted millions from poverty and made Brazil a darling of foreign investors.
Rousseff, a left-leaning former energy minister, enjoyed a double-digit lead over her centrist opponent, Jose Serra of the PSDB party, in all major polls leading up to the runoff vote.
From the modernist capital Brasilia to the shantytowns above Rio de Janeiro, voters echoed what has been the campaign's defining theme -- the hope that Rousseff, 62, will continue the social programs and stable economic policies of Brazil's wildly popular president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
"The country has never been as good as it is now," said Milton Carneiro, an engineer who voted for Rousseff at a school in Brasilia. "I hope things will continue this way."
Even Serra conceded as he voted on Sunday that he had faced "an uneven battle" -- an apparent reference to the booming economy, which has seen many Brazilians splurge on cars, TVs and other household goods for the very first time.
Rousseff, a cancer survivor running in her first election, barely failed to win a clear majority in the first round of voting on Oct. 3, taking 47 percent of the vote.
The race briefly narrowed as many voters were turned off by corruption in Rousseff's Workers' Party and her views on social issues, but she pulled away again in the final two weeks as the campaign's focus shifted back to the economy.
Poor prosper most under Lula
Poorer Brazilians have done especially well under eight years of Lula. Since the charismatic former union leader was forbidden by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, many in the Rio shantytown of Rocinha said they considered a Rousseff vote the next-best thing.
Juarez Alves, 50, said the economic boom had transformed both Rocinha and his home state in Brazil's impoverished northeast, where Lula's welfare initiatives and infrastructure investments have had the biggest effect.
"Where my mom lives, now there's light, water, and the city's all pretty," Alves, a doorman, said after casting a ballot for Rousseff. "What Lula did for the northeast, nobody had ever done before."
Voting in Latin America's largest country is electronic, allowing authorities to tally votes in just a few hours. The electoral authority will start announcing partial results after 7 p.m./2100 GMT.
Whoever wins will face challenges including dealing with Brazil's overvalued currency, which is damaging exporters; getting fiscal spending back under control; and investing in infrastructure ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which Brazil will host.
Rousseff has shown little appetite for major economic reforms and instead is expected to focus on improving government efficiency, cutting bureaucracy and expanding the state's role in some strategic areas.
Meanwhile, Serra would follow a similar path but would probably be preferred by investors for his tougher fiscal stance and greater acceptance of the private sector.
Serra and his PSDB party have said the polls, which overestimated Rousseff's lead in the first round, are unreliable and biased. But the tide seemed to turn decisively against him when the Green Party, whose candidate Marina Silva made a strong showing in the first round, decided to stay neutral in the runoff.
Some voters doubted Rousseff because of her relative lack of charisma, while some investors fear she could lead a more leftist administration than Lula's. But the desire for continuity appears to have trumped those concerns.
"You don't mess with a winning team," said Alves, the doorman. "Today everyone can buy things."
Date created : 2010-10-31