RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Many voters in Latin America’s largest democracy hoped to elect Brazil’s first-ever female president Sunday – but they’ll have to wait another four weeks.
The frontrunner, Dilma Rousseff, took a wide lead in the multi-candidate race but failed to win an outright majority. She will now face Jose Serra, her distant second-place challenger, in a runoff on Oct. 31.
Rousseff, 62, is the former chief of staff and hand-picked successor of Brazil’s immensely popular current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Many observers and two independent polls released Saturday predict she is likely to beat Serra, former governor of the state of Sao Paulo, by 12 percent or more in a runoff.
Rousseff won more than 46 percent of the vote Sunday, Serra took less than 33 percent while Marina Silva, the Green Party candidate, won just under 20 percent, Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court reported.
Silva – a black senator born into poverty in the Amazon – was seemingly the election’s main surprise, winning outright in the federal district of Brasilia, the capital, and outperforming even the most optimistic polls, which predicted her taking 17 percent nationwide. Rousseff and Serra are both expected to court Silva’s support in the hope of capturing some of her 19 million votes in the second round.
“We feel profoundly victorious,” Silva told a crowd of supporters in Sao Paulo.
As voters cast their ballots Sunday, Rousseff told reporters she remained confident of success regardless of the outcome. “I await the results calmly, whether it’s in the first or second round,” she said. “The good fight always leads to victory.”
After he voted, president Lula pointed to his own experience. “I didn’t win in the first round either in 2002 or 2006,” he told reporters. “The important thing is that Dilma is in a very privileged position.”
Much like his chosen successor, Lula won just over 46 percent of the vote in his first successful presidential race – the 2002 contest in which the runner-up was also Jose Serra. In the runoff, Lula beat Serra by 22 percent.
Lula’s presidency has been marked by market-friendly policies that boosted Brazil’s economy, along with social programs that have pulled millions out of poverty. Lula enjoys 80 percent approval ratings and has put his popularity to use in the campaign, consistently appearing alongside Rousseff at political events and in advertisements nationwide.
For at least some Rio de Janeiro voters Sunday, the transfer of popularity succeeded. Aparecida Ferreira, 44, a nurse on her way to vote in the middle-class neighborhood of Gloria, said she’s supporting Rousseff so Lula’s work will continue.
“We always have hope things will be renewed, things will keep changing,” she said.
Just outside a polling station in the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood, 53-year-old Alvanisio Alvaro Damasceno, a book editor, said he was headed to cast a his ballot for Rousseff because of Lula, who has run in every presidential election since Brazil’s return to democracy.
“I supported Lula two times – no – every time!” he said. “Lula’s government was good and the other candidates aren’t interesting to me.”
More than 420,000 polling stations nationwide were open from 8 am until 5 pm and the electronic tally – Brazilians have voted electronically since the year 2000 – was 95 percent complete as of 10 pm Sunday.
In addition to the presidential race, Brazilian voters cast ballots in more than 1,600 national, state and local elections – including 27 races for governor, 54 contests in the Brazilian senate and 513 in the chamber of deputies, the lower house of congress.