Brazil election tightens as Dilma Rousseff slips in polls

Dilma Rousseff still leads polls for the Brazil election Sunday, but scandals are weighing her down despite backing from popular President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Eraldo Peres/AP
Brazil's Workers party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff (c.) gestures while boarding a car after a campaign rally at the bus station in Brasilia, Brazil, Sept. 28. Brazil will hold general elections Oct. 3.

A week ago, Dilma Rousseff looked on course to win an overall majority in Brazil’s presidential election Sunday and thus avoid a runoff ballot four weeks later.

That possibility now hangs in the balance as new polls show her momentum slowing.

The candidate from the ruling Workers’ Party has 46 percent of voter support, according to a Datafolha poll published Tuesday, a clear 16 points ahead of her center-right rival Jose Serra but 5 percentage points down from two weeks ago and three points below her level seven days ago. A separate Ibope poll released Wednesday showed her static on 50 points, 23 points ahead of Serra. The poll's 2 percent margin of error shows that she could still fall short of a majority.

Referred to here as "Dilma," the leftist guerrilla turned respected administrator is still the odds-on favorite to succeed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term. Known widely as "Lula," he has wholeheartedly endorsed Dilma, and both politicians would dearly love a first-round victory and the mandate that implies.

At her final campaign rally in São Paulo on Monday night, both politicians stressed the election was not yet won and appealed to supporters not to flag in the final straight.

The reason for the drop in polls is probably due to the drip-drip-drip effect of the influence-trafficking scandals to hit the Workers’ Party (PT) and Dilma's own office inside Brazil’s equivalent of the White House.

PT members were recently discovered illegally breaking into the tax records of Mr. Serra’s family, as well as senior members of his Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). It is suspected that they sought dirt to use against him. But because few Brazilians actually pay taxes, the scandal went over the heads of many, especially the poor and emerging middle class voters who form Dilma’s core support.

That scandal was followed two weeks ago by revelations that a family member of her closest aide Erenice Guerra, the Brazilian president's chief of staff, took money in exchange for help in securing lucrative government contracts. Ms. Guerra quit over the allegations. Dilma was not personally accused but she and Lula were reluctant to condemn the malfeasance.

The second scandal – thanks also to the vociferous media campaign highlighting the issue – seems to be having an effect.

“It seems obvious that the wear and tear on Dilma is related to the scandal involving Erenice Guerra … or is down to the accumulation of negative news that has surrounded her campaign since the violation of tax records came to light,” wrote Fernando de Barros e Silva in Tuesday’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

If there is a silver lining in this cloud for Dilma, it is that the support she lost went not to Serra but to Marina Silva, the third-place candidate from the Green Party. Ms. Silva now has 14 percent, up from 9 percent one month ago. Serra has 32 percent.

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