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Incumbent Rousseff To Face Neves In Brazil's Presidential Runoff


Brazil is in the midst of a presidential election. It's one of the most hotly contested votes there in a generation, and there's still a ways to go before it's said and done. Over 140 million Brazilians went to the polls yesterday, and as expected, the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, won but not by enough to avoid a runoff later in the month. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has our story from Sao Paulo.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The race is on. Dilma Rousseff will face right-of-center candidate Aecio Neves in the runoff for the presidency. The much-touted candidate Marina Silva - born into poverty, a former environment minister - ended up a distant third. Carlos Pereira is from the Getulio Vargas foundation in Rio de Janeiro.

CARLOS PEREIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have three weeks until the final vote, he says. The candidates will have an equal amount of time on TV. Neves is good on TV, so I think who will win is unpredictable, he says. This has already been a tumultuous and unpredictable race. In August, one of the candidates died in a plane crash, and his running mate, Silva, took over and momentarily became the front-runner. But she was the subject of relentless political attacks and was unable to counter them. Neves rose in the polls.

PEREIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pereira says Neves appeals to people who want change, but he also has a history that represents security and continuity.

At a polling center in an upscale neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazilians lined up to type their choices on computer screens. Voting here is completely electronic, and it's also mandatory. Paula de Freitas is a 47-year-old economist, and she says she cast her ballot for Aecio Neves. She says Rousseff's party has been in power for 12 years, inflation is spiraling and the economy is stagnating. The country, she says, needs a new direction.

PAULA DE FREITAS: I'm excited because he's the one that I really believe that can do any changes. Hopefully he - he's going to change what's going on right now. The economy is very - it's going down.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now a little about Neves. He's the grandson of the much-beloved Tancredo Neves, who fought Brazil's dictatorship, but died just before he could assume the presidency. Aecio is an economist who's been the governor of the important state of Minas Gerais twice; plus he's had several stints in Congress. His party is right-of-center and held the presidency right before Rousseff's mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, came to power in 2002. So it's a powerful pedigree.

In the poor community of Vila Nova Jaguare in Sao Paulo, the scene was festive with families dragging along young children to vote. Neighborhoods like this favor Rousseff and her ruling workers' party. Elias dos Santos is Dilma Rousseff supporter.

ELIAS DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People support Dilma because of her achievements with social justice, he says. The program Bolsa Familia, for example, took millions of people out of poverty and misery, he says. In the past decade, Brazil has made impressive strides in reducing inequality. Millions now have access to housing and education through government programs started by Rousseff's predecessor, Lula da Silva. There is record employment and rising wages, and that is also a powerful legacy. Ultimately it may be Marina Silva's voters who decide the final round. Silva ended up getting some 21 percent of the vote, and depending which way they go, they could be the king- or queen-makers. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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