Brazil’s 135 million voters appear poised to elect Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla turned career civil servant, as their first woman president in elections today.
Rousseff, 62, held a dominating lead over her rival in all the polls, suggesting she will take over next year from her mentor and former boss, outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The only question mark over today’s vote is whether she will win by a big enough margin to avoid the need for a runoff round Oct. 31.
With campaigning officially suspended two days before the elections — which will also select federal and state legislators, governors and much of the senate — Rousseff’s competitors have little chance to make up ground.
Jose Serra, Sao Paulo’s former state governor, is running a distant second, at least 20 points behind Rousseff, who is credited with 47 to 50 percent of voter intentions.
Marina Silva, a former environment minister, is the only other figure to make a mark in the nine-strong field vying for the presidency, but her role is limited to siphoning some votes away from Rousseff.
Rousseff, who underwent plastic surgery and a cosmetic makeover for her campaign, was virtually unknown to most Brazilians before Lula thrust her into the spotlight as his anointed heir.
Though she shares none of Lula’s charisma and warmth, his support alone has been enough to win over voters, especially poorer ones who have benefited from eight years of Lula’s welfare largesse.
Despite time spent as Lula’s energy minister and then chief minister, little is known about how Rousseff thinks beyond her oft-repeated promises to continue her mentor’s policies.
What is more commonly raised is her extraordinary past 40 years ago, during her participation in a violent, Marxist underground movement seeking to overthrow Brazil’s then-military dictatorship.
That activity lead to her arrest in 1970 and three years behind bars being subjected to torture before being released.
While she has established her moderate credentials through her years in Lula’s center-left administration, she has given indications that she would favor greater state involvement in Brazil’s booming economy.
However, business leaders seem largely unconcerned over any incoming government changing course.
“From the speeches from the presidential candidates — from Dilma [Rousseff], from [Jose] Serra, from Marina [Silva] — there seems no plan from any of their economic teams to interfere with the basics of the Brazilian economy,” said Edemir Pinto, chief executive officer of Sao Paulo’s stock exchange.
Brazil’s new president will face challenges more pressing than starting any wider reforms.
“We have two important events here soon: the World Cup and the Olympics, which will require heavy investment in infrastructure — airports, public transport, roads,” said Ricardo Luiz Mendes Ribeiro, a political analyst at MCM Consultoria.
Abroad, a president Dilma is seen as likely to continue Lula’s diplomatic strategy of being friendly with all nations, including South American neighbors such as Venezuela and Bolivia that strike a more radical, anti-US line.