Brazilian environmentalist Marina Silva could unseat incumbent Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s presidential elections in October, a public opinion poll revealed on Monday, reflecting an altered political landscape since Silva’s running mate was killed in a plane crash last week.
Silva, a 56-year-old former environment minister, has moved into second place ahead of the October 5 first-round vote and would defeat Rousseff in an October 26 runoff, the poll by DataFolha found.
It was the first poll taken after Socialist Party candidate Eduardo Campos’s death in the August 13 plane crash.
Silva was Campos’s vice presidential running mate, and has been chosen to replace him at the top of the ticket.
The poll found Silva had 21% support against 36% for Rousseff and 20% for Social Democrat Aécio Neves. In a runoff vote, Silva would defeat Rousseff 47% to 43%, it found.
The incumbent, however, would beat Neves 47% to 39% if they faced each other in the second round.
Campos had been in third place, polling at about eight percent, before his campaign jet crashed en route to Sao Paulo, killing all seven people on board.
The DataFolha poll was carried out August 14 and 15 – the two days following Campos’s death – and has a margin of error of two percentage points.
It also found Rousseff’s approval rating had risen from 32% to 38%.
Silva had been considered a top contender for this year’s race after surprising many pundits by coming third in 2010 with 19% of the vote running on the tiny Green Party’s ticket.
But she opted to join forces with the affable, politically connected Campos and his more-established PSB party for this year’s vote.
With her compelling personal story and broad-based appeal, she could be even more effective than Campos at selling the PSB’s message of change after 20 years of government by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) and Neves’s PSDB.
Born into a poor family of rubber tappers in the Amazon, she only learned to read and write at 16 years old, the start of a meteoric rise to become a figurehead of the country’s environmental movement.
An evangelical Christian, she appeals to both religious conservatives and the left.
The campaign officially kicked off Tuesday, when candidates began taking to the airwaves to pitch their platform.
The PSB has agreed to rally around a Silva candidacy after she pledged to honor the party’s program and its regional alliances, said Beto Albuquerque, a party congressman from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and guy chosen to be her running mate.
“She will be the PSB candidate and she will honor those agreements,” Albuquerque told reporters.
Concern among some prominent PSB members about Silva’s conservationist views and other issues such as economic policy were the main obstacles to her nomination.
Campos, a popular former governor of Pernambuco state, was killed in a plane crash on the way to a campaign event in the southeastern coastal city of Santos. The accident upended Brazil’s presidential race, with pollsters and analysts saying there is now a greater chance that the election will be decided in a second-round runoff on October 26.
The first-round vote is scheduled for October 5.
Campos, 49, was in third place in opinion polls, trailing President Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Workers’ Party and Aécio Neves, the centrist opposition candidate from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party.
Silva, who placed a strong third in the 2010 presidential race as the Green Party candidate, is hugely popular among younger voters who are disillusioned with Brazil’s political establishment.