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Brazil Election Caps A Dramatic Campaign Season

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. Rachel Martin is away. Brazilians go to the polls today at the end of a dramatic campaign season. One candidate died in a plane crash. Presidential incumbent Dilma Rousseff is a former political prisoner and cancer survivor. Pitted against her is Marina Silva, a popular environmentalist who grew up in the Amazon. Also running is the grandson of a beloved political figure. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us now from Sao Palo. Good morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Good morning.

SHAPIRO: So the polls are open. Describe where you are and what you're seeing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm at a polling station in the west of the city in a neighborhood called Morumbi. It's at a school. And in this country, not only is voting obligatory, it's totally electronic. No paper trail. So everything is done on a computer screen. And people are filing in and out pretty quickly.

SHAPIRO: As we mentioned, this has been a dramatic campaign season. Run us through some of the highlights.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In mid-August, the man who was running in third place at that point for president, Eduardo Campos in a plane crash. And that upended the race. His running mate, Marina Silva, then took the top spot and surged in the polls. She has a very dramatic story. She grew up poor and illiterate in the Amazon. She's of Afro-Brazilian decent, a first in this country for someone running for president. And she worked as a maid to put herself through school. Suddenly, she seemed like the woman to beat. But the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and her party went on a very negative offensive. And now in a few short weeks, we've seen it turn around again. And Dilma is on top.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about that surge. Why did the incumbent come back apart from the negative campaigning you mentioned?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been a combination of factors. Here in Brazil, the bigger party gets more airtime so Rousseff's party has been blanketing the airwaves. And I think people are worried about losing what they've gained under Rousseff's party. Even though Brazil is now in bad economic shape, the last decade has seen impressive growth and the expansion of social policies that have really benefited the poor.

SHAPIRO: I could imagine some American listeners thinking why does it matter to me who wins the Brazilian presidential election. Remind us what's at stake on the global stage here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. This is the sixth largest economy in the world. A change in leadership here could really signal a shift in foreign policy and certainly a shift in monetary policy. Brazil under Rousseff and her predecessor have been very protectionist, and the markets really want to see a change in direction. Also, this is where the biggest chunk of the rain forest is; the world's lungs as they are called. And finally, this will impact the U.S. Rousseff's government has had a very rocky relationship with the United States, and the other candidates are much more pro-U.S.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking with us from a polling station in the Morimbi neighborhood of Sao Paulo Brazil. Thanks, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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