Brazil election race tight as rivals limit debate barbs

Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO — President Dilma Rousseff remains locked in a tight race against her second-round rival Aécio Neves with less than a week before Brazilians head back to the polls to pick a president in a 26 October runoff.

The CNT/MDA poll, which surveyed 2,002 voters over the weekend, suggests the two remaining presidential candidates are technically tied within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 points.

Rousseff, candidate for the leftist Workers’ Party (PT), would take 45.5 percent of votes if the runoff were held now, with Neves, centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate, at 44.5 percent.

With only valid votes considered, Rousseff is numerically ahead with 50.5 percent and Neves at 49.5 percent, hinting that the incumbent could now be gaining momentum, after recent surveys by pollsters Datafolha and Ibope also put Neves numerically in front.

The poll did not take into consideration the latest televised debate held Sunday night by TV Record, however, which saw the rivals raise the level of discourse after trading a bruising tirade of accusations during the previous two head-to-heads on 14 & 16 October.

Sunday’s third debate of the second-round campaign saw a more composed, restrained performance from both candidates as they tackled topics such as the economy, public security, and education.

Raising the level

Neves questioned the government’s performance on security while Rousseff argued that homicides had “shot up 52 percent” in Minas Gerais state, where Neves was twice elected governor. The PSDB candidate said crime had fallen in the state capital, Belo Horizonte, on a budget that had not been fully received.

Responding to a number of attacks on her economic record, Rousseff underlined the country’s record-low unemployment, but Neves said industry jobs in the key economic heartlands of São Paulo state were now being lost, and accused the incumbent of allowing inflation to burst through the government’s upper limit.

Neves also pointed to the prospect of “practically zero growth” in 2014 as market forecasts predict GDP expansion of under 0.3 percent this year. Rousseff said the analysts and Neves were being “overly pessimistic.”

There were also exchanges about social programs that the PT candidate has previously allege would be under threat were the PSDB candidate elected. Neves made clear this would not be the case, and that the Bolsa Família state family handout scheme, praised for helping millions climb out of extreme poverty, was “not the president’s to call her own”.

Although more muted, Sunday’s debate did see a number of accusations made, including about a kickback corruption scheme at the heart of the country’s state-run oil giant Petrobras.

Rousseff admitted for the first time on television that the scheme existed but argued investigations were still needed to clarify its extent and who was involved.

Neves also accused the governing parties of causing the company’s value to “fall by half” — an accusation denied by the incumbent, who guaranteed investors would “make a lot of money” and argued production was at a high of more than two million barrels a day.

‘Lowest, dirtiest campaign ever’

The premise of a higher level of discourse replete with proposals was not delivered, experts argued.

“We didn’t get anything really new; rather we saw the same arguments and the same proposals, which were simply attacked without the rival candidate proffering a counter-proposal, as viewers might expect,” Carlos Manhanelli, President of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants, told The Anadolu Agency (AA).

“As we are dealing with a potential re-election, this campaign was always going to be more of a referendum [on PT’s 12 years in power], rather than an all-out election campaign full of new ideas and proposals,” Manhanelli said.

“Normally we expect the pressure to be hatcheted up in the final week, with accusations coming to the fore after new proposals are exhausted. But let’s be clear: this is the lowest campaign in my 40 years’ experience of Brazil’s elections — we have seen dirty tricks and character assassination from the start of the first round, and we will see more mudslinging in the last debate.”

That final televised debate is set to be broadcast on the country’s biggest channel, Rede Globo, this Friday, 24 October, two days ahead of the compulsory runoff vote in which 142.8 million Brazilians are eligible to cast their ballots.

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