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Lula's Chosen Successor Ahead in Brazilian Election Poll

A campaign poster for Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, left, with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sits in the Andarai slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 01 Oct 2010
A campaign poster for Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, left, with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sits in the Andarai slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 01 Oct 2010

Elections are being held Sunday in Brazil and the former chief of staff of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is poised to become Brazil's first female leader. Polls show her with a strong enough lead to claim victory in the first round of voting.

Workers' Party candidate Dilma Rousseff has held a clear lead in the polls throughout the campaign.

And despite a corruption scandal in the chief-of-staff's office just a few weeks ago, a poll released a few days ago still gives her 52 percent of the vote. That's enough to decide the election on Sunday.

At the final debate on Thursday night, she said she's eager to take on the job. "Most of all I want to say that I am ready to be the first female president of the Republic. My goal is to make Brazil a developed country, to succeed in eradicating poverty and let all Brazilians share in its wealth. You can count on me," she said.

The twice-divorced favorite was left-wing guerrila leader in her youth, when Brazil was a military dictatorship.

Now, she's known as a capable technocrat who helped design the pragmatic policies of President Luiz Inacio da Silva - known around the world as Lula. Under his leadership, economic growth took off and tens of millions of Brazilians rose out of poverty.

Rousseff's critics note that she has never won an election and lacks Mr. Da Silva's charismatic style and his appeal to the working class.

Her main opponent is Jose Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic party. He argues that much of the economic success is the result of groundwork laid by the previous president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was from his party.

During the debate, Serra claimed credit for Mr. Da Silva's widely praised Bolsa Familia program, which paid poor families to keep their children in school. "Bolsa familia was created from the food grant program that that I created in my region. All of Brazil knows that," he said.

Despite Brazil's phenomenal growth, the current president has failed to tackle widespread corruption. The infrastructure is crumbling and many people say medical services and education have gotten worse.

Still, Mr. Da Silva has approval ratings around 80 percent. Political scientist and business consultant Amoury Souza says that is because economic growth and purchasing power increased even for the poor under his administration. "And this feel-good factor, it's very influential in the election. People would like the current situation to continue and therefore they have expressed their preference mostly for President Lula's candidate," he said.

There are twelve candidates running for president, and if Rousseff does not get an absolute majority on Sunday, a runoff must be held within 30 days. Still, analysts predict she will win either way.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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