Brazil to elect first female president
Belo Horizonte - Campaigning wrapped up in Brazil on Saturday on the eve of a presidential runoff expected to make the ruling party candidate, Dilma Rousseff, the country's first female president.
The 62-year-old protegee of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who stands down at the end of the year, spent the day rustling up last-minute votes in Belo Horizonte, the main city of Minas Gerais state and the second-biggest pool of votes after Sao Paulo.
Her rival, Jose Serra, the 68-year-old former governor of Sao Paulo state, was also there in a separate final campaign push before Sunday's election.
Polls show Rousseff, Lula's former cabinet chief, with an unassailable lead of 12 to 15 points over Serra.
She trounced him handily in the first round on October 3 with 47% of the ballots to his 33% - though fell just short of the 50%-plus-one required to avert the runoff.
Although a dour career bureaucrat who has never before contested an election, Rousseff has won the backing of many voters thanks almost entirely to the support from Lula, who is leaving office with a spectacular popularity rating of over 80%.
She has none of the charisma of Lula, a gruff former union leader, but Brazilians are counting on her to continue his policies that over the past eight years have brought prosperity to their country.
Rousseff, who was born in Minas Gerais, told the crowd of supporters in Belo Horizonte that she was "confident" of victory.
"If there is victory, I am going to work for a united Brazil... for all Brazilians without exception," she said.
She stressed her ties with Lula. "Any time I can, I'll be in contact with him and nobody will separate us, because we have a close and strong relationship," she said.
One cheering woman in the crowd, Gislaine Carmo, 23, told AFP: "I think she'll win with 60% of the votes. I have trust in the work we've done with Lula and Dilma."
Serra, like Rousseff, drove through the city in an open-top car, waving at supporters.
The two confronted each other in Rio late Friday for their final televised debate before the runoff.
Unlike in earlier debates, they avoided trading insults, and the focus of their exchanges returned to economic and social issues.
Both had been actively pursuing Brazil's sizeable number of devout Catholic and evangelical voters after Rousseff suffered a last-minute defection of some of them in the first round over her previous pro-abortion stand.
In recent weeks, though, both she and Serra said they had no intention of changing Brazil's ban on abortions.
Serra struggled throughout the campaign to differentiate himself politically from Rousseff. He, too, has promised to maintain many of the popular policies Lula oversaw, notably those that helped lift 29 million Brazilians out of poverty.
Rousseff, however, portrayed herself as a collaborator on those policies, and Lula did much to share the credit with her while on the campaign trail.
On Sunday, Brazil's 136 million voters will make their choice between the two candidates. Results were expected shortly after polling stations closed.