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Candidate Campos' death dims Rousseff's reelection hopes

Stephen KurczyThe Christian Science Monitor

With less than two months to go before Brazil’s Oct. 5 presidential election, the death of candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash today is expected to jolt many young, urban voters into action and shift momentum in favor of the political opposition.

Top officials in Mr. Campos' socialist party say his running mate, Marina Silva, will now likely move to the top of the ticket. Ms. Silva, a former environment minister who placed third in the 2010 presidential election with 20 million votes, is seen as more able to rally undecided voters and directly challenge President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party. Campos was seen as a more business-friendly alternative to Ms. Rousseff, whereas Silva is known as a staunch defender of the Amazon and broke away from the Workers' Party in protest of harmful development projects. 

"This will add emotional weight to this campaign,” says Thiago de Aragão of Brasília-based political advisory firm Arko Advice, which is in close contact with all of Brazil's mainstream political parties. “Brazilians are superstitious," says Mr. Aragão. "Voters could feel that his death had a symbolism [occurring on the 13th of the month] ... and perhaps be moved to vote differently."

Brazilian election law says that if a presidential candidate is incapable of running for office due to extraordinary circumstances, anyone affiliated with the party or another coalition party can assume the nomination, according to Aragão.

Sources inside Campos’ Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) told Aragão that party leaders will meet in coming days to formally nominate Silva. A decision must be finalized in 10 days, according to Adelaide Ribeiro, a communications official in the state government of Pernambuco, where Campos served as governor from 2007 until April of this year.

Recent polls showed Campos with about 10 percent support, behind 36 support for Rousseff and the 20 percent support for Aécio Neves of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). In a second-round runoff, which will happen if no candidate wins more than half of all votes cast in October, polls show Rousseff and Neves in a dead-heat.

Now, Silva’s appeal with younger, urban voters is expected to siphon votes away from Rousseff and help ensure the election will go to a second round, according to Nomura Securities analyst Tony Volpon. In 2010 most of Silva’s supporters shifted their support the the opposition PSDB candidate in the second round.

“Now it’s likely that Neves could see even more votes coming from supporters of Silva after the first round,” says Aragão. “The campaign will now be harder for Dilma, increase chances for Neves, and add a heavy emotional characteristic in the voting process.”

Rousseff has seen a recent bump in popularity thanks to her government’s successful hosting of the World Cup, although her polling numbers are still well below where they stood a year ago before nationwide demonstrations calling for better public services and less corruption. High inflation and low economic growth have also played a role in her declining approval rates and flagging support from the business sector. 

The closest precedent to the political maneuvering that is expected to take place following today's events was in 1985 when president-elect Tancredo Neves fell ill before inauguration and his vice president José Sarney assumed the presidency.