By Juan Forero
Monday, October 4, 2010; A6
RIO DE JANEIRO - Voters in the world's fourth-biggest democracy, buoyant about a potent economy and Brazil's rising clout on the world stage, cast their ballots on Sunday for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's handpicked successor in a show of support for the popular leader's policies.
With 99.8 percent of the votes counted late in the evening, Dilma Rousseff, 62, a Marxist guerrilla-turned-economist who served Lula as chief of staff, had nearly 47 percent, to 32.6 percent for Jose Serra, a former governor who is her main challenger. A third candidate, Marina Silva, the Green Party candidate and a former environmental minister in Lula's government, had 19.3 percent.
Polls and political analysts suggest that Rousseff will be Brazil's next president, but she did not get the more than 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff with Serra on Oct. 31.
"I will confront the second round with a lot of drive and energy," Rousseff told reporters in Brasilia, the capital. "I will have the opportunity to provide more details about my proposals to eradicate misery and ensure the country's development with fast levels of growth."
If Rousseff wins that final round, she will become the first woman to lead Brazil, Latin America's largest country, with 200 million people, and a rising economic power known as a major exporter of everything from grain to meat, sleek airplanes to iron ore. Under Lula, Brazil became the world's eighth-largest economy, more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty and Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first time the Games will be held in South America. So much oil has been discovered off Brazil's coast that energy experts talk of this country becoming a major exporter of crude.
Lula, who before winning the presidency in 2002 had been a strident union organizer known for his bushy beard and Che Guevara T-shirts, also tried to project Brazil on the world stage. His country has reached out to help Africa improve agricultural production and, closer to home, become the undisputed leader in South America. But there have been setbacks.
Brazil's increasingly warm ties with authoritarian leaders including Fidel Castro in Cuba and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran have rankled officials in the Obama administration, despite ostensibly good relations between Washington and Brasilia.
After Brazil and Turkey brokered a deal earlier this year designed to reduce concerns about Iran's uranium-enrichment program, an American-sponsored resolution of sanctions against Tehran won approval by all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China.
Still, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, Rousseff's campaign coordinator, said he expects that she would generally follow the same path chosen by Lula, in both international and domestic matters.
"Brazil's position has been very proactive in international affairs," he said Thursday. "I don't see why Dilma would change her position from that of the Lula administration."
In a debate last month, Serra zeroed in on the government's relationship with Iran, which included a visit to Brazil by Ahmadinejad, and accused the Lula administration of coddling a dictator.
Rousseff answered that she would never waver on human rights, noting that Brazil had tried to resolve knotty international problems through diplomacy. She noted, in contrast, that American military might has been counterproductive in Iraq.
"No one treats Iran with affection," she said, adding that the relationship Brazil has with Tehran is diplomatically oriented.
But foreign affairs had little role in the campaign, particularly since September, when Serra pounded repeatedly on the Rousseff campaign because of a corruption scandal in Lula's cabinet. Rousseff was not linked to the allegations, but analysts say the scandal may have prevented her from winning the election outright on Sunday.
It prompted her defenders, such as Cardozo, the campaign coordinator, to stress that she has "a very rigid posture" on how to deal with malfeasance.
"She's a hard-liner on ethics," he said.
What has given her campaign the momentum that is likely to take her to the presidency is her connection to Lula, who told Brazilians that a vote for her would be a continuation of his policies.
"This will be Lula's government without Lula," said Jairo Nicolau, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University.
In interviews Sunday with voters in Rio, many spoke admiringly of how Lula's government delivered a strong economy and generous social programs such as Bolsa Family, the world's biggest program to transfer cash to poor families.
"Lula has made many great strides for the country," said Joao Uri Magdaleno, a restaurant manager, noting that he voted for Rousseff. "There is no way I'd vote for anybody else."
Jorge Samulha, 32, a tour guide, said that he has been able to find work more easily in recent years. "There are more jobs now," he said. "I don't spend much time out of work."
Not everyone, though, wants a continuation of Lula.
Jose Edmar Fiuza, 73, a retired engineer, and his wife, Darci Miranda Fiuza, 64, acknowledged the positive changes under Lula. But they said that they have been irritated by past corruption scandals that have enveloped Lula's cabinet and the Workers Party.
"There are big problems - social peace, sanitation, health care, education - but the thing that gets in the way from resolving those problems is corruption," he said. "I think there was a big increase in corruption."
Like many others in Brazil, he thinks that Lula would not exit the scene entirely, but would play a role of some sort in Rousseff's government, should she be the next president, and possibly try to regain the presidency in 2014.
"Not that I want him to have a role," Fiuza said, "but he'll probably come back."