Lula's chosen 2010 candidate slips in Brazil poll

BRASILIA, Sept 8 Tue Sep 8, 2009 1:45pm EDT

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BRASILIA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's chosen candidate in Brazil's presidential election next year lost ground among voters, while the opposition's Jose Serra kept most of his wide lead, a poll showed on Tuesday.

Lula's chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, garnered 19 percent of voter intentions, down from 23.5 percent in May, according to the Sensus poll.

Sao Paulo State Governor Serra, who lost to Lula in 2002's presidential race, saw his support fall less than 1 percentage point to 39.5 percent.

Rousseff's fall in the polls follows word from Lula's former environment minister Marina Silva that she may run for president. Analysts say Silva could draw women and leftist supporters from Rousseff, splitting the pro-government vote.

Silva, an internationally renowned defender of the Amazon rain forest, took 4.8 percent of voter intentions in the poll.

But Ricardo Guedes, director of Sensus, said backing for Rousseff fell mostly because an ongoing Senate ethics scandal involving a key Lula ally had rubbed off on her and the government. Lula and Rousseff were seen by some as defending the embattled Senate chief against accusations of fraud and nepotism.

"Dilma may have lost a little (to Silva) but nothing significant. Her fall is due more to political factors," Guedes told a news conference.

The government also lost support for its handling of the H1N1 flu, the poll showed. The number of deaths from the flu rose to 657, the highest number in any country, the health ministry said last week.

By law, Lula cannot run for a third consecutive term in the October 2010 election, making it the first time in two decades he will not bid for the country's top job.

The hugely popular former union leader has spent much political capital to promote Rousseff's candidacy, ignoring opposition to her bid from allies and some members of his own ruling Workers' Party.

Lula's approval rating has fallen nearly 5 percentage points since May but at 76.8 percent remains near the highest levels of his nearly seven years in office.

The survey polled 2,000 people from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (Reporting by Fernando Exman; Writing by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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