Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil presidential rivals hold first televised debate

Jose Serra and Dilma Rousseff shake hands after the debate in Sao Paulo (5 August 2010)
Image caption The first televised debate came two months before the presidential election

The four main candidates in Brazil's presidential election have taken part in the first televised debate.

Attention focused on the two front-runners in recent opinion polls, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party and Jose Serra of the Social Democracy Party.

Ms Rousseff is a former chief of staff of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but has never run for office. Mr Serra is Sao Paulo's former governor.

Correspondents say no clear winner emerged from Thursday's contest.

President Lula is stepping down after serving two consecutive four-year terms, the maximum allowed under Brazil's constitution.

Popular government

The first televised debate came two months before the election.

The BBC's Paulo Cabral in Sao Paulo says Mr Serra carefully avoided criticising President's Lula's highly popular government but told voters he was the best person to build on its economic achievements.

He also promised to improve the health system and infrastructure.

"Travelling on federal highways in Brazil today is a public danger," said the 68-year-old, who only six months ago had a 20-percentage point advantage over his nearest rival in the polls.

Ms Rousseff, 62, who Mr Serra now trails by 10-percentage points, meanwhile sought to show that she had her own ideas in an effort to counter criticism that her campaign has been based almost solely on the president's popularity, our correspondent says.

But she nevertheless vowed to continue the government's economic policies, which have brought growth of about 7%.

"We have lifted 24 million people out of poverty and brought 31 million people into the middle class. In the middle of the crisis in 2009, we created 1.7 million jobs"

The Green Party's Marina Silva and Plinio Soares de Arruda Sampaio of the Socialism and Freedom Party also participated, but they are far behind in the polls with little chance of victory, our correspondent adds.

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote on 3 October, a run-off election will be held four weeks later.

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