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Rousseff fights to win

Voters make queue for voting on natioanl elections in Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, October 5, 2014. (Bloomberg Photo/ Dado Galdieri)Voters make queue for voting at a public school in Rocinha slum during national elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, October 5, 2014. (Bloomberg Photo/ Dado Galdieri)

Voters make queue for voting on natioanl elections in Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, October 5, 2014. (Bloomberg Photo/ Dado Galdieri)Voters make queue for voting at a public school in Rocinha slum during national elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, October 5, 2014. (Bloomberg Photo/ Dado Galdieri)

Published Oct 12, 2014

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has counted on the support of most of the 35 million Brazilians who rose from poverty during the 12-year reign of her Workers Party as she fights to win a second term during an unpredictable election year.

Backing from those voters won Rousseff 42 percent in the October 5 first round, and 44 percent in the most recent poll.

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To defeat challenger Aecio Neves in the October 26 run-off, she will need to add a group of swing voters who have prospered while her party, known as the PT, has governed, yet may be open to Neves’s call for change.

Rousseff had a two-pronged strategy of signalling policy change to attract swing voters and reminding those who had benefited from PT policies that they could again fall back down the social ladder, said Marcos Troyjo, who co-leads a forum on emerging markets at Columbia University in New York.

That might work to deflate a Neves campaign that had been gaining momentum, he said.

“Many Brazilians with low expectations of politicians feel like they’re actually getting something out of government under the PT – higher income, housing, health,” Troyjo said by phone from Rio de Janeiro. “Reminding voters of that may still work. Dilma still has a chance.”

Rousseff’s strategy is being tested as Neves surges in polls taken by Datafolha, Ibope and Instituto Parana in the days since the first-round vote.

The opposition candidate gained support in all three polls and is statistically tied with the incumbent in the Datafolha and Ibope surveys.

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Rousseff has 44 percent and Neves 46 percent in both the Datafolha and Ibope surveys published on Thursday.

In the Instituto Parana poll, published on Wednesday, she has 41 percent against 49 percent for Neves.

With the economy in recession and inflation above target, Rousseff is arguing that her policies cushioned the impact of a global crisis that destroyed jobs across the world.

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In Brazil, unemployment is near a record low of 5 percent and wage gains have exceeded consumer price increases every year of the past decade.

For those discontented with the slowest growth since 2009 and the fastest inflation in almost three years, Rousseff said in her first speech after the October 5 vote that she would implement “new ideas” in the economy and exert more control over price increases.

Voters needed to choose between a party that was defeated in the three past elections and another that had carried out the “most successful social transformation in the history of Brazil”, the president’s campaign said on its website on Thursday.

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Rousseff says Neves’s Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which ruled from 1995 to 2002, implemented policies such as record-high interest rates that increased unemployment and led to energy rationing in 2001.

The PT’s social welfare programmes reach Brazilians from shantytowns to the far reaches of the Amazon.

The flagship cash transfer programme, Bolsa Familia, benefits almost 25 percent of the country’s population of 200 million.

Rousseff championed a programme that imported doctors from Cuba and Spain to provide basic health services to 50 million Brazilians.

Her administration also paid for 8 million students to receive vocational training thus reducing the jobless rate.

“Neves is a candidate who would just govern for the wealthy,” said Nayane Christine, a 24-year-old student who studies psychology on a government loan.

“He didn’t win in his own state of Minas Gerais.”

Neves, who governed Minas Gerais from 2003 to 2010, got 40 percent of the votes in his home state in the first round, compared with 44 percent for Rousseff.

The incumbent’s biggest support came from the north-east of the country, home to most of the Bolsa Familia recipients.

In the state of Bahia, she garnered 61 percent against 18 percent for Neves.

In the wealthier, more industrialised state of Sao Paulo, Rousseff tallied 26 percent of the vote, against 44 percent for Neves.

Compared with 2010, when she got 47 percent of the votes in the first round, her support has fallen.

Both candidates began their second-round campaigns last week by seeking to play to their strengths.

Rousseff said voters should fear the “ghosts of the past”, in a reference to the country’s economic performance under the PSDB government.

Neves retorted that they should be afraid of the “monsters of the present”, citing inflation, slow growth and corruption scandals.

Latin America’s biggest economy grew an average 2.1 percent in Rousseff’s first three years in office.

Growth will slow to 0.24 percent this year, according to analysts surveyed by the central bank.

Slower growth didn’t help ease inflation that accelerated to 6.75 percent last month.

he real has weakened 31 percent since Rousseff took office in January 2011.

The Ibovespa fell more than 17 percent in the same period.

Neves had been able to tap support among voters who four years ago were aligned with the PT by convincing them he was prepared to adopt policies that would create a new cycle of growth without jeopardising social gains, said Andre Cesar, an independent political analyst. – Bloomberg

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