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Dilma Rousseff re-elected president of Brazil

Evaristo Sa, AFP | Dilma Rousseff delivers a speech in Brasilia after winning the election

Brazil’s leftist President Dilma Rousseff narrowly won re-election on Sunday after convincing voters that her party’s strong record of reducing poverty over the last 12 years was more important than a recent economic slump.

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After one of the closest, most divisive campaigns in Brazil in decades, Rousseff won 51.64 percent of votes in a runoff against centrist opposition leader Aecio Neves, who won 48.36 percent with more than 99 percent of the votes tallied.

Rousseff said her first priority in a second term would be political reform, promising to work with Congress on changes that the country demands after winning re-election in a tight Sunday runoff.

Rousseff had called for a popular referendum on political reform after widespread protests in June 2013, but she dropped the issue in the face of stiff resistance from lawmakers.

In her victory speech, she also reiterated her commitment to fiscal discipline and controlling inflation.

Rousseff's victory means another four years in power for the Workers’ Party, which since taking the reins of Latin America’s largest economy in 2003 has virtually transformed Brazil.

During that time, economic growth has lifted 40 million from poverty, reduced unemployment to record lows and made big inroads against hunger in what remains one of the world’s most unequal countries.

The party’s star has faded recently. The economy has slowed dramatically under Rousseff’s heavy-handed and often unpredictable policies, making Brazil’s glory days of robust growth last decade an ever-more distant memory.

Numerous corruption scandals, high inflation and frustration over poor public services like health care tempted many to consider a switch to Neves’ more pro-business agenda.

'A DIFFICULT ELECTION TO ADMINISTER'

Yet Rousseff and her supporters spent the campaign warning voters, especially the poor, that a vote for the PSDB would mean a return to the less compassionate, more unequal Brazil of the 1990s - an argument that Neves rigorously denied, but ultimately appears to have prevailed anyway.

“We need Dilma to continue the programmes that improve the lives of those in need,” Livia Roma, 19, a university student in Sao Paulo, told Reuters as she voted on Sunday. “I didn’t vote for myself, but for the minorities and less fortunate classes.”

Investors have generally disliked Rousseff’s interventionist management of state-run companies and other sectors of the economy, and Brazil’s financial markets plummeted last week when polls showed she was likely to win a second term. They could see another selloff on Monday.

With 200 million people and a gross domestic product of some $2 trillion, Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy and its most populous country.

By re-electing Rousseff, it remains on a middle ground between more socialist governments in Venezuela and Argentina, and the freer-trading, faster-growing countries on the Pacific coast that include Colombia and Chile.

Support from the poor

Rousseff owed her victory to overwhelming support from the roughly 40 percent of Brazilians who live in households earning less than $700 a month.

They have benefited from the Workers’ Party’s rollout of a programme that pays a small monthly stipend to one in four Brazilian families, as well as federal housing programmes, government-sponsored vocational schools and an expansion of credit to the working class.

Rousseff, 66, is unlikely to enjoy much, if any, of a honeymoon when her second term starts on New Year’s Day.

Recent allegations of systemic corruption at state-run oil giant Petrobras roiled the final days of the campaign and are likely to be a major political headache in coming months and years as prosecutors pursue those responsible.

The economy slipped into a recession earlier this year, and ratings agencies have warned that a credit downgrade is possible unless Rousseff makes hefty spending cuts to correct deficits that have mushroomed in recent months.

Her aides have said she will try to win back the confidence of financial markets by announcing a more pragmatic finance minister for her second term, although many investors worry that Rousseff will continue to call most of the shots herself.

 (FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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