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'Ghosts' vs. 'Monsters' theme of Brazil elections.

Byline: Brad Brooks

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian voters electing a new president today are being asked to decide what scares them least: the incumbent's warnings about the ''ghosts of the past,'' or her challenger's charges about the ''monsters of the present.''

The latest polls either gave left-leaning incumbent Dilma Rousseff a slight edge or saw a dead heat for the runoff election to choose the leader of the world's fifth-largest nation. For that reason, few are counting out center-right challenger Aecio Neves after a topsy-turvy campaign that has been the most competitive, divisive and dramatic since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985.

''The country is divided in two, with half feeling that social inclusion and protections are what matter most, and the other half believing that macroeconomic stability is more important,'' said Carlos Pereira, a political analyst at the Gertulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil's leading think tank. ''The candidate who convinces voters he or she is best prepared to combine these two beliefs and make them complementary will win today's election.''

The race turned dramatic after Eduardo Campos, a main opposition candidate, was killed when his campaign plane crashed in August. His running mate, renowned environmentalist Marina Silva, was thrust into his spot, and she immediately jumped to a double-digit lead over Rousseff and Neves.

Silva initially tapped into the discontent over poor public services that millions of Brazilians expressed in anti-government protests last year, but her campaign never found its feet and voters drifted away within weeks. That opened the gap for Neves to stage his surprisingly strong showing in the Oct. 5 first-round vote, coming in second and forcing Rousseff into a runoff when her first-place finish didn't get an absolute majority.

The campaigns hit fever pitch in the three weeks since, with the Workers' Party that's been in power for 12 years and Neves' Social Democracy Party that last held the presidency in 1995-2003 battling it out with no shortage of verbal jabs and nasty allegations. Rousseff attacked her rival with campaign ads asking Brazilians to remember the ''ghosts of the past'' when Neves' party ruled, with much of the nation mired in poverty, unemployment rife, and hyperinflation.

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Author:Brooks, Brad
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Oct 26, 2014
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