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Brazil goes to runoff after Rousseff falls short

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The Associated Press
Monday, October 4, 2010; 6:46 AM

SAO PAULO -- Ruling-party candidate Dilma Rousseff, who is trying to become Brazil's first female leader, fell short of getting a majority of votes in presidential elections and now faces a runoff in four weeks against an experienced, centrist rival.

Rousseff - popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's hand-chosen successor - outpaced rival Jose Serra 46.9 percent to 32.6 percent in Sunday's vote, but didn't get the 50 percent she needed to win outright. Analysts were split on whether there was enough campaign time left for the underdog opposition candidate to close the gap.

Much depends on the other female candidate, the Green Party's Marina Silva, who won a surprising 19.4 percent of the vote. She said her party's leadership would decide whether to throw their support behind Rousseff or Serra, though she emphasized it was up to individual voters to make their own choices.

Rousseff, a former Marxist militant who was imprisoned for three years and tortured under Brazil's military dictatorship, long ago left behind her rebel background and has made a career as a pragmatic bureaucrat, most recently serving as President Silva's chief of staff.

Much of Brazil's electorate barely knew who Rousseff was just a few months ago, but her popularity skyrocketed after it became clear she was Silva's candidate when campaigning began in July. The president enjoys approval ratings that hover near 80 percent and he has transferred much of that popularity to Rousseff.

Silva, who is legally barred from seeking a third term, was also forced into second-round votes in his 2002 and 2006 presidential victories, a fact Rousseff alluded to following Sunday's election.

"We are used to challenges. Traditionally, we have fared well in the second round," Rousseff told supporters in Brasilia. "I'm confident that the second round will provide an important process of elucidation, of dialogue with the representatives of society."

Serra exuberantly met supporters in the early morning hours Monday, saying that his Brazilian Social Democracy Party was "going to march to victory" in the Oct. 31 runoff vote and retake the presidency for the first time since Fernando Henrique Cardoso's 1994-2002 administrations.

"A second round is a whole new ball game. Everything starts from zero," said Alexandre Barros, with the Early Warning political risk group in Brasilia. "I would say Dilma has a strong chance of winning a second round. But it will all depend on what new facts emerge during the campaign."

Serra, 68, is a former mayor and governor of Sao Paulo who was badly defeated by Silva in the 2002 election. He, too, has promised to continue the policies of Silva.

Fred Vani, a 25-year-old businessman in Sao Paulo, said after casting his ballot that he and other voters want to see some differences.

"With Dilma winning, I don't see a lot changing in the country, it will be more of the same, and that's not good enough," he said. "We need the next president working hard on structural reforms, especially the tax reform. We need something different from what we have now."

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