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Ruling party's Rousseff on verge of Brazilian presidency

world Updated: Oct 29, 2010 20:50 IST

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The ruling party candidate in Brazil's presidential runoff Sunday, Dilma Rousseff, is poised for victory, according to polls giving her an unassailable lead over opposition rival Jose Serra.

If the surveys are borne out, Rousseff, 62, will become the first female president of Latin America's biggest economy.

She is bidding to succeed hugely popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who constitutionally has to step down at the end of this year after completing his second consecutive mandate.

The latest polls suggest Rousseff, Lula's former cabinet chief, has a lead of 12 to 15 points over Serra, a 68-year-old former Sao Paulo state governor.

In the first round of the presidential election on October 3, Rousseff won 47 percent of the vote -- just short of the majority needed to avoid the runoff against Serra, who picked up 33 percent.

Nothing short of disaster could rob Rousseff of the presidency in the second round, analysts said.

"I think the electoral scenario is set, unless a political catastrophe occurs in the final 24 hours," political analyst Carlos de Melo told AFP.

Rousseff was dealt a surprise in the first round when evangelical and Catholic voters defected to a defeated evangelical Greens Party candidate after being stirred up by an Internet campaign highlighting her past pro-abortion stance.

To win these voters back ahead of the runoff, Rousseff has gone to pains to depict herself as a pious woman who would not change Brazil's law banning abortions.

Rousseff and Serra were to make their final national pitches in a televised debate late Friday. They were expected to tone down their barbs from earlier debates, when arguments became shrill and avoided certain contentious issues in favor of insults.

"It has to be admitted that this electoral campaign has really been a horror. The big victim of the electoral campaign has been Politics, with a capital P. We have had some pretty poor moments," Melo said.

Ricardo Guedes, the director of the Sensus polling firm, said Rousseff's advantage was bolstered once the issues of abortion and religion died down.

"The discussion, which became emotional over values, lost its force and has returned to a rational arena of economic and political themes," he said.

That has allowed Rousseff to highlight the achievements of the current government in lifting 29 million Brazilians out of poverty and overseeing a booming economy.

Around 136 million voters are being called out to cast their ballots in Sunday's runoff. Results are expected shortly after polling stations close.