Brazil's unpredictable election took another twist yesterday, with left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff being forced into a runoff race as expected—but against a center-right challenger who only surged in the final week of the campaign. Rousseff will face Aecio Neves in the October 26 runoff vote, required as no single candidate won an outright majority. With over 99% of the vote counted, the president had won 41.5% against Neves' 33.6%. As surprising as Neves' rise was the fall from grace of another candidate, former environment minister Marina Silva, who took just 21% of the vote. In late August, she held a double-digit lead over Rousseff in polls after being thrust into the race when her Socialist Party's first candidate died in a plane crash.
But over the past few weeks, the powerful political machine of Rousseff's Workers' Party eviscerated Silva with what some analysts called the most negative and aggressive campaigning Brazil has seen since returning to democracy nearly 30 years ago. Neves, however, had the backing of the well-organized Social Democracy Party, which held the presidency from 1994 until 2002. "Aecio's performance has been extraordinary and one of the reasons for this is the very strong party structure behind him—a party with a strong nationwide presence and which has been in the presidency," says a political analyst with the Gertulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil's leading think tank. "It is now a new election where everything is wide open. Aecio, who until recently no one believed had a chance, has emerged as a very strong candidate."