Serra closer to Brazil candidacy as rival quits

BRASILIA Thu Dec 17, 2009 3:10pm EST

Jose Serra, governor of Brazil's state of Sao Paulo, speaks during the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen in this December 15, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Bob Strong

Jose Serra, governor of Brazil's state of Sao Paulo, speaks during the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen in this December 15, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Sao Paulo state Governor Jose Serra is almost certain to clinch the main opposition party's presidential candidacy for next year's Brazilian election after his main rival dropped out on Thursday.

The governor of central Minas Gerais state, Aecio Neves, said he would not seek to become the presidential candidate for the opposition PSDB party in next October's election.

Neves' decision, announced at a news conference in Belo Horizonte, strengthens the position of Serra, who lost to current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002.

"There was a certain anxiety due to the party's indecision. Now, the pressure is off," said Alvaro Dias, PSDB Senator.

The move also ends the possibility of a split in the PSDB party, which could have weakened its presidential bid against Lula's ruling Workers' Party (PT).

"This way I will contribute so that the PSDB and its allies ... can build a path without tensions toward victory in 2010," Neves said.

Serra has a 20-percentage-point lead in opinion polls over Dilma Rousseff, Lula's chief of staff and his chosen candidate to run in the October 3 poll. The popular Lula is constitutionally barred from running for a third straight term.

Government supporters said Neves' departure would hurt the PSDB because he could have drawn voters away from Rousseff.

"Some sectors that hadn't decided for Dilma in hopes Aecio would run, I think they'll definitely come to us," said PT Senator Aloizio Mercadante.

Serra and Rousseff are likely to be confirmed by their respective parties in February. They would begin campaigning in earnest after April 3, the deadline for government officials to resign if they want to run for public office.

Analysts said Neves could bid for a seat in the Senate.

(Reporting by Carmen Munari; Additional reporting by Fernando Exman and Ana Paula Paiva; Writing by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Anthony Boadle)

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