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Brazilians Vote in Presidential Runoff

Dilma Rousseff, presidential candidate for the Workers Party, gestures after voting during Brazil's presidential election runoff in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 31Oct10

Polls are open in Brazil for a presidential run-off election to determine who will take over for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after nearly eight years in office. In Sao Paulo, the candidate from Mr. Silva's Workers Party carried a strong lead in the first round of voting.

Brazilians are returning to the polls in run-off elections for president and governor in several states across the country.

Opinion polls showed Dilma Rousseff, of the ruling Workers Party, with a comfortable lead over former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra.

Rousseff has promised that if elected she will maintain many of the social welfare and economic programs of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Serra has sought to appeal to business interests, including promises to strengthen private investment and job creation.

For many voters, the decision is seen as a referendum on President Lula and whether his leftist party should remain in power.

At one polling station in Sao Paulo, student Eduardo Castanho said he supports Rousseff.

Castanho said he wants to the see the current party remain in power, adding that he disagreed with some of Serra's decisions as state governor.

Since President Lula took office, spending has increased on social welfare programs, such as the popular "family allowance" program aimed at cutting poverty and boosting school enrollment in poor areas. Officials say the program helps 12-million families and has cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by more than half.

Critics of the government say officials have used social-welfare programs to buy voter support, especially in rural parts of northeastern Brazil.

After casting his ballot for Serra, retiree Clovis Vilas-Boas said the current government has shown a failure of ethics.

He said populist schemes to buy voter support and win elections only hurt Brazil in the long run.

Many voters say both candidates have failed to offer specifics on the policies and proposals they would enact, if elected. Experts say the next president will face key challenges, including how to address high government spending and a recent drop in Brazilian exports.

Former bank worker Teresa Salotti said she was disappointed that both candidates offered little more than vague promises. She said she voted only because the law requires her to do so.

Salotti said she would rather stay home and not vote, because neither candidate is likely to fulfill the promises they made during the campaign.

More than 135-million Brazilians are eligible to vote. Election officials say results are expected shortly after polls close late Sunday.