Brazil seen electing Rousseff to extend Lula legacy

* Booming economy, Lula seen lifting Rousseff to victory

* Campaign lacked debate on Brazil’s economic challenges

* Rousseff unlikely to tackle major economic reforms

By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 31 (BestGrowthStock) – Brazilians are expected
to elect a woman as president for the first time on Sunday,
backing her to emerge from the shadow of President Luiz Inacio
Lula da Silva and extend the country’s run of prosperity.

Last-minute doubts over left-leaning Dilma Rousseff’s
character and religious beliefs cost her outright victory over
centrist opposition rival Jose Serra in the election’s first
round a month ago.

Ahead of Sunday’s runoff vote, however, opinion polls tell
a consistent story — that voters have quelled such concerns,
care more about the economic gains of recent years, and are
ready to give Rousseff a chance to build on Lula’s legacy.

The double-digit lead in polls enjoyed by Rousseff of the
ruling Workers’ Party means that Serra, a career politician who
most recently was governor of Brazil’s wealthiest state, has a
mountain to climb if he is to pull off a shock victory.

Serra has escaped seemingly bleak situations before. As an
exiled student in Chile in the 1970s, he cheated possible death
by persuading soldiers who had rounded him up and later killed
hundreds of others that he had diplomatic immunity.

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Full coverage of election: [ID:nBRAZIL]

Election Top News page: http://link.reuters.com/dux43p

Graphic on opinion polls: http://r.reuters.com/vet88p

Special report on Rousseff: http://link.reuters.com/fab25p

Political risks in Brazil: [ID:nRISKBR]

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The 68-year-old now needs another impressive escape trick
on Sunday after a lackluster campaign in which he has seemed to
be on the wrong side of history.

“Either the polls are getting it wrong or he needs a
miracle,” said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at Tendencias
consultancy in Sao Paulo.

Brazil has banished its old reputation as an economic
basket case and become an engine of global growth as Lula’s mix
of pragmatic policies and social programs have reduced poverty
and vaulted millions into a bulging middle class.

Enough of that economic feel-good factor and Lula’s star
power have rubbed off on his former chief of staff to make
Rousseff the favorite, even though the sometimes dour former
leftist militant has failed to win Brazilians’ affection.

Voting in Latin America’s largest country is electronic,
allowing authorities to tally votes in just a few hours. Ballot
booths open at 8 a.m. (1000 GMT) and the electoral authority
will start announcing partial results after 7 p.m. (2100 GMT).

The wildly popular Lula, who lost three elections before
finally winning the presidency in 2002, is not on the ballot
for the first time in two decades but has still dominated the
campaign, using all of his gruff charm to persuade voters that
Rousseff is a strong manager capable of succeeding him.

That has allowed Rousseff, a 62-year-old cancer survivor
who has never held elected office, to stick to a safe,
well-trodden script that has convinced many voters but given
few glimpses of her personality or detailed policy plans.

THIN POLICY DEBATE

Some see the lack of policy debate as worrying at a time
when Brazil is facing several challenges to its global
competitiveness, including a currency near two-year highs,
loose fiscal spending and a suffocating bureaucracy.

“Little or nothing has been made explicit, for example,
about what Dilma or Serra plan to do on economic policy. They
have omitted proposals on foreign exchange, fiscal and monetary
policy,” Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said in an editorial.

Rousseff is expected to broadly maintain Lula’s policies,
shying away from major economic reforms and instead focusing on
improving government efficiency, cutting bureaucracy and
expanding the state’s role in some strategic areas.

Serra would follow a similar path but would probably be
preferred by investors for his tougher fiscal stance and
greater acceptance of the private sector.

Still, the campaign was dominated for weeks by Rousseff’s
past views on abortion and her alleged involvement in
corruption scandals as Serra went on the attack and briefly
narrowed her lead in opinion polls.

Serra and his PSDB party have said the polls, which
overestimated Rousseff’s lead in the first round, are
unreliable and biased. But the tide seemed to turn decisively
against him when the Green Party, whose candidate Marina Silva
made a strong showing in the first round, decided to stay
neutral in the runoff.

The former health minister needed to rally voters in
Brazil’s wealthier southeast for the runoff vote, including his
political base in financial capital Sao Paulo. But polls show
that many have been turning to Rousseff instead.
(Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)

Brazil seen electing Rousseff to extend Lula legacy