Silva surges as Rousseff's main challenger in Brazil elections
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Silva surges as Rousseff's main challenger in Brazil elections

Former Environment Minister and newly-appointed presidential candidate Marina Silva has closed the gap between her and current President Dilma Rousseff to five percentage points, distancing herself from opposition candidate Aécio Neves, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The poll also indicated that in a runoff that is likely to be held on October 26, Silva would beat the incumbent Rousseff — marking a major shift in Brazil’s election since the death of centrist candidate Eduardo Campos two weeks ago.

According to the survey by polling institute Ibope, the leftist Rousseff still leads for the October 5 first-round vote with 34 percent, while Silva has surged to 29 percent and the right-of-center Neves is at 19 percent. In the previous sample, taken when Campos was still alive, Worker’s Party (PT in Portuguese) candidate Rousseff scored 38 percent, the Social Democracy Party’s (PSDB) Neves had 23 percent and Campos’ Brazilian Socialist Party ticket got 9 percent.

In the runoff, the Ibope poll suggests, Silva would beat Rousseff 45 percent to 36 percent. Silva, who tried to create her own party for this election but eventually failed and joined the Brazilian Socialist party ticket instead, placed third in the 2010 Brazil elections with an anti-establishment platform.

Many expected her to be on top of the PSB ticket since she joined the party, but that only happened after Campos was killed in a plane crash in the city of Santos, near São Paulo. Brazil is still in the midst of political uproar as a result of his passing, and the current state of upheaval could have helped Silva in the poll.

Read more: Nomination of Silva puts Brazilian presidency up for grabs

Although Silva is not saying much about her plans, this time her team has hinted she would try to please financial markets by making Brazil’s central bank independent and by giving more power in her administration to one of the owners of Banco Itaú, a major Brazilian bank. She has also promised to keep inflation targets, floating exchange rate and primary surplus policies — the so-called macroeconomic tripod, a key element of Brazil’s economy since the late nineties.

During the first presidential TV debate last night, though, Rousseff and Neves reinforced their opposing views and took few swipes at Silva. Both camps believe the environmentalist will lose momentum in coming months. The PT and PSDB parties have been in opposing trenches in Brazilian elections since 1994, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president. The Ibope poll says Rousseff would beat Neves 41 to 35 percent — no change for the two wealthiest campaigns since another poll a month ago.

In the three-hour showdown, Silva said she offered a new path to voters, but didn’t provide any specifics on what change would mean if she is elected. Silva insisted “there are good Brazilians in all political parties” and promised she would try to bring them to her administration. Again, she didn’t mention any names that would either tip the balance towards a more market-friendly administration or one that leans towards social improvements.

Neves made a key concession at the end of the debate by saying former Central Bank governor Arminio Fraga would be his Finance Minister if he gets elected. Fraga is hailed as a fiscal conservative by the opposition and has been criticized as a perverse neoliberal by PT since the late nineties. Silva’s key economic advisor, Eduardo Gianetti, is also close to Fraga. Traders on the Brazil stock exchange have grown wary of Rousseff’s interventionism in the economy and may be looking for a different financial approach from the next administration.