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Dilma Rousseff tops Brazil election, but can't avoid runoff against Jose Serra

The late surge by Green Party candidate Marina Silva has sent the Brazil election into a runoff ballot Oct. 31. Top candidate Dilma Rousseff is still favored to take over for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Dilma Rousseff, presidential candidate for the Workers Party, right, is kissed by Tarso Genro, candidate for Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, next to an electronic ballot box after voting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 3.

Felipe Dana/AP Photo

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A late surge by the Green Party candidate in Sunday’s Brazil election siphoned votes away from the presidential favorite and has sent the election into a potentially combative runoff ballot later this month.

Workers’ Party candidate and odds-on favorite Dilma Rousseff won 46.9 percent of the vote and will face former Health Minister Jose Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party in a runoff on Oct. 31. Mr. Serra placed second with 32.6 percent.

Marina Silva, the Green Party outsider who had been polling in the low teens, placed third with 19.3 percent, making her the most successful third-party candidate in more than 20 years and the day’s big winner.

Scandal hits top candidate

But if the result was a victory for Ms. Silva, it was a disappointment for Ms. Rousseff, who, although she had never ran for office before, had the vociferous backing of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the most popular president in recent history.

Opinion polls in the weeks before the ballot had shown Rousseff close to winning an absolute majority, though her support fell amid several recent scandals as well as rumors that she would decriminalize abortion. Silva was also favored by people disillusioned by two-party politics.

“I like [Silva's] ideas and I think she could change politics,” Josias Perreira da Silva said as he voted in a gritty São Paulo neighborhood early Sunday. “I don’t think she can win, but I think it's worth taking a chance on her.”

Silva appealed to her rivals to heed her 20 million votes and adopt a more constructive dialogue during the coming runoff campaign. “Take advantage of this second chance that Brazil has given us to debate the issues that are truly of interest,” Silva told euphoric fans Sunday night.

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