Brazil is set to hold a run-off election Sunday to decide who will take over for leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after nearly eight years in office. The popular leader's protégé carried a lead in the first round of voting.
Even though his name is not on Sunday's ballot, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to have a strong impact on the presidential run-off vote. The leader of Brazil's Workers Party carries more than 80 percent support in recent approval ratings, as he prepares to leave office in January. Supporters praise his efforts to build the economy into a regional powerhouse, as well as finance social projects and infrastructure improvements.
Now he is working to channel that popular support into votes for the Workers Party candidate, Dilma Rousseff, who is Lula's former chief of staff. She was a Marxist guerrilla who was jailed by Brazil's military government in the 1970s, and now has a strong chance of becoming the nation's first female president.
In the first round of voting earlier this month, Rousseff received 47 percent of ballots, while former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra took 33 percent.
Late Friday, the two faced off in a final televised debate that allowed undecided voters to pose questions to the candidates.
Rousseff used the debate to underline the successes of the current government, and promised to continue many economic and social policies. In response to a question about welfare programs, she said the Lula government has provided support to more than 1 million poor families in Sao Paulo alone.
She said the current government also implemented policies that expanded the economy, created 15 million new formal-sector jobs and enabled 28 million to lift themselves out of poverty.
Serra said that while Brazil's economy has been strong in recent years, there is concern about future growth. He said more federal money is needed to create new jobs.
Serra said the current government is spending less on job creation than previous years. And he said, if elected, he would invest more federal money.
In response to environmental concerns, Rousseff said the current government has cut down the rate of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon to nearly one-fourth of previous levels. She said those efforts would continue, if she is elected president.
Rousseff said she would consider deforestation a crime against Brazil, and would enact a zero-tolerance policy to better protect the country's natural resources.
In turn, Serra said deforestation in the Amazon often results from rural workers who have no other job opportunities. He said he supports research into plant and animal resources in the Amazon, which can be lucrative to medical researchers without damaging the tropical forests.
Serra said he would help rural states take advantage of the biodiversity in the Amazon region and expand opportunities in medical research, which he said generates $50 billion a year around the world.
One of the big questions in Sunday's run-off is which candidate will win over voters who supported Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who finished third in the first round of voting.
Silva was Environment Minister under President Lula, but helped form the Green Party to promote an end to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. She has declined to endorse either candidate in the run-off.
One voter, Otavio Dias, said he backed Silva in the first found, in part because he was disappointed with the political attacks between Serra and Rousseff. He said he plans to vote for Serra on Sunday, even though other Silva supporters may not.
Dias said he knows people who voted for Silva in the first round and who are voting for Serra now, and others who are voting for Rousseff. But he said some Silva supporters, including his two sisters, plan not to vote at all.
More than 130 million voters are eligible to take part in Sunday's run-off election in Brazil.