By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian presidential contest has been taken up a gear as the official election campaign begins this week and main candidates announce the budgets for how much they think it will cost them to win. With recent polls showing Dilma Rousseff of Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party) in the lead just ahead of José Serra of Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democratic Party) political tensions have been rising in the country.
The political climate leading to this year’s elections differs greatly from the presidential elections Brazil is used to seeing, in which the candidates have distinguished themselves by promises of radical change, and originality in economic, political and social policies.
Dilma, however, is expecting to benefit from the success of President Lula, pledging continuity with a female touch, and hoping to emerge victorious from the elections. “It is not a coincidence that after this great man, our Brazil could be governed by a woman – a woman who will continue the Brazil of Lula but with the heart and soul of a woman,” she said.
If elected, Dilma will be the first female president of Brazil, and only the fourth in Latin America after Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla.
To that end she has so far secured the endorsement of ten parties, the largest alliance in the history of the PT. Announcing this week that her campaign budget will be R$187 million (US$105 million), she also declared the total value of her assets amounted to R$1.7 million (US$963,000).
Main opposition candidate José Serra, who has been highlighting his achievements as the former mayor of São Paulo and governor of São Paulo state while also trying to appeal to the young voters, declared a campaign budget of R$180 million (US$102 million). Serra appears statistically tied with Dilma in one opinion poll in which both candidates have around 39 percent support from voters, whilst others give Dilma a slender lead.
While Serra has maintained a constant level of support between 35-40 percent since the beginning, Dilma’s popularity has been on a consistently rising trend as smaller parties and influential political figures have endorsed her campaign.
Brazilian electoral law allows parties to start campaigning only three months before the election date, and each party will be allotted free time on national TV networks starting in mid-August. If on the first round of presidential elections of October 3rd no candidate gets the absolute majority of the votes, a run-off round will be held on October 31st, in which the voters will choose between the two candidates who have received the most votes in the first round.
Third-party candidate Marina Silva, whose campaign focuses on environmental politics, has been slowly but steadily gaining popularity, and currently appears to have around ten percent voter support. Even though she is not considered a serious contender, Silva’s votes are expected to be the determining factor on whether or not the election moves on to the second, face-off round.