Dilma Rousseff and José Serra, Brazil’s main presidential candidates, will be holding their first televised debate Thursday evening less than two months to voting day, October 3.
The debate has been organized by Bandeirantes Television and will also include two other candidates with lesser chance, so all eyes will be set on Lula’s pick, Rousseff and opposition leader former governor of São Paulo, Serra.
According to the latest Ibope public opinion polls released last weekend Ms Rousseff is five points ahead of Serra 39% to 34%, while Green party hopeful Marina Silva figures with 7% and Arruda Sampaio, Socialism and Liberty party, with 2%.
Until fifteen days ago Ms Rousseff and Serra were technically tied in what is considered the tightest presidential race since the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985.
The debate will turn out to be a real test for Ms Rousseff, president Lula’s former cabinet chief and handpicked as candidate by the popular Brazilian leader, since she has never held an elected post and has no campaigning experience while Serra has been mayor, governor, deputy, senator and presidential candidate.
Furthermore the participation of Ms Silva and Mr Arruda both dissidents of Lula da Silva’s Workers Party, and standing to her left, could complicate things.
Ms Silva was Environment minister with Lula and left in 2008 after squabbling with Ms Rousseff regarding development projects for the Amazon basin.
Arruda belongs to the founding group of the Workers Party together with Lula in 1980, but stepped down in 2005 following a major corruption scandal in Congress, which forced the resignation of some of the closest advisors and ministers of the Brazilian leader.
Both dissident hopefuls attack Ms Rousseff for having abandoned “ethic principles and the socialist ideas” which geared the founders of the Workers’ Party.
However government strategists feel confident Ms Rousseff can face the challenge based on the immense prestige and popular support for President Lula (averaging a record 80%), plus the aggressive campaigning of the Brazilian leader who has gone as far as saying that Dilma is the incarnation “of Lula in a woman”.
The debate will be divided in six blocks with the four candidates answering questions from a panel of journalists, public opinion and among themselves.
Given the size of Brazil and its population (200 million) three more debates have been planned in different channels: TV Record, August 28; Rede Globo, August 30 and Rede TV, September 12.
Rousseff and Serra have also been invited to participate in the first ever internet presidential candidates’ debate scheduled for August 18 and sponsored by UOL and Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s leading dailies.