All celebrations were on hold yesterday for outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after results from Sunday's national elections confirmed that the candidate handpicked to succeed him, Dilma Rousseff, had been forced into a run-off ballot in four weeks time.
Even exit polls on Sunday had suggested that Ms Rousseff, of the ruling Workers' Party, was on track to secure the 50 per cent she needed to avoid a run-off and claim victory to lead one of the world's fastest-growing economies. But she fell short, winning 46.9 per cent against 32.6 for her rival, Jose Serra.
Most analysts continued to forecast that Ms Rousseff, an underground guerrilla during Brazil's military dictatorship who spent two years as a political prisoner, will finally prevail on 31 October. But neither she nor President Lula (who is constitutionally barred from serving a third term) had been counting on four more weeks of rough-and-tumble campaigning when events could still turn unpredictable. Assorted factors may have stalled her momentum, including a corruption scandal touching Lula's inner circle that may have awakened doubts with some voters about the integrity of the leftist Workers' Party. Ms Rousseff, 62, who last year overcame lymphatic cancer, may also have lost large numbers of conservative Catholic voters after videos surfaced showing her expressing doubt about Brazil's tough anti-abortion laws. It appeared that some of her support had been diverted less to Mr Serra, a former state governor and leader of the Social Democratic Party that held power before Lula's ascent eight years ago than to the Green candidate, Marina Silva, who is an evangelical Catholic. She took 19 per cent on Sunday and was being courted last night by Mr Serra and Ms Rousseff, who would dearly love her endorsement.
On the campaign trail, Ms Rousseff has been seen as a dry and uncharismatic candidate who has been fuelled less by her own political appeal than by that of her mentor and protector, Lula, who continues to enjoy stratospheric popularity as the leader that helped catapult Brazil forward as a new world economic power.
Both Ms Rousseff and Mr Serra have promised more or less to steer the same economic course as Lula. But while the national mood is mostly one of euphoria, serious problems loom, not least with interest rates that are among the highest in the world, a transport infrastructure that nowhere near matches the aspirations of a country that in the coming years will host both the World Cup and the Olympics, and an educational system that lags far behind those of many of its Latin American neighbours.
In a boost for Ms Rousseff if she is to declare victory after the run-off, preliminary results last night from congressional elections also held on Sunday showed the Workers' Party holding on to a strong majority in the legislature in Brazilia. Such an edge would considerably strengthen her mandate, analysts said.
"If Rousseff wins, as we still believe she will, she will have a comfortable advantage in Congress," said Rafael Cortez, political analyst with Tendencias consultancy in Sao Paulo.
* Better known for goals than political acumen, the striker Romario took a seat in the lower house. He promised to back sports programmes and people with disabilities, citing his daughter, who has Down's Syndrome, as his inspiration.
* The cliché that politicians are a joke gained new force with the victory of Francisco Everardo Oliveira Serra, better known as Tiririca the clown, who won more than 1.3 million votes despite claims he is illiterate. "What does a congressman do?" he asked in his ads. "The truth is I don't know, but vote for me and I'll tell you."Reuse content