Brazil votes for Lula successor

Some 136 million Brazilians were voting Sunday to elect
the successor to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is stepping down
after two terms.

Mr Lula’s favoured successor, his former chief of staff
Dilma Rousseff, is widely expected to win the election.

But she needs 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off poll
later this month.

Analysts say Ms Rousseff has run a careful campaign,
benefiting from Mr Lula’s widespread popularity and the country’s booming
economy.

Before voting in the southern city of Porto Alegre, Ms
Rousseff said: “Whatever happens, I believe that it’s the good fight
you’ve fought that gives you victory.”

Opposition candidate Jose Serra, of the Social Democratic
Party, has pinned his hopes on getting enough votes to force a second round.

President Lula, who is barred from standing for a third
consecutive term, acknowledged that the poll could go to a run-off.

“The election has two rounds. I have never won an
election in the first round. It will be 30 more days of fighting… and let’s
go to this fight”, he said.

Mr Lula stressed, however, that Ms Rousseff was in a
strong position to win.

The latest polls published on Saturday suggested Ms
Rousseff’s attempt to win enough votes to avoid a run-off vote on 31 October
would be extremely tight.

O Globo newspaper’s prediction had Ms Rousseff winning
51% of the vote, with Mr Serra on 31%; the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper poll
put Ms Rousseff on 50% and Mr Serra on 31%.

Polls have consistently suggested Ms Rousseff would win a
second round by a wide margin, but analysts say her position would be
strengthened if she could win outright on Sunday.

Brazil, one of the world’s most-populous democracies, is
also choosing local and national representatives in the election.

Voting began in most areas at 0800 (1100 GMT), with some
polling stations in the far east opening an hour earlier, and others in the
west an hour later.

Maria Silveira, a Rousseff voter in Mr Lula’s
constituency, Sao Bernardo do Campo, outside Sao Paulo, told Associated Press:
“It only makes sense to vote for the candidate who I know will continue
what he started.”

But AP quoted 22-year-old student Iracy Silva as saying:
“I voted for Serra because he has much more experience than the other
candidates.”

Brazil uses machines to log the votes, and preliminary
results are expected within hours of the stations closing at 1700 local time.

Ms Rousseff, of the ruling Workers’ Party, saw her lead
in the opinion polls slip in the final days of campaigning after corruption
allegations surfaced involving a former aide.

But her campaign has been boosted by energetic support
from Mr Lula, who is constitutionally barred from standing for a third
consecutive term.

“I’m convinced the majority of people want
continuity from the government,” Mr Lula told a rally on Friday.

“That’s why I think Dilma will win.”

Ms Rousseff, 62, served as Mr Lula’s chief of staff from
2005 until this year, and is a career civil servant. Her tilt at the presidency
is her first attempt at elected office.

During the 1960s and 1970s she was involved in the armed
struggle against Brazil’s military rulers, and was jailed for three years.

The 68-year-old Mr Serra is hugely experienced, having
served as Sao Paulo mayor, Sao Paulo state governor and health minister under
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. He lost the presidential election in a
run-off to Mr Lula in 2002.

Two other candidates for the presidency are trailing far
behind in the polls.

Marina Silva of the Green Party and Plinio de Arruda
Sampaio of the Socialism and Freedom Party are not expected to trouble the
frontrunners.