Brazil opposition settling on presidential candidate as rival bows out

SAO PAULO Mon Dec 16, 2013 7:17pm EST

Aecio Neves, who has been elected as the new president of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), gestures as he speaks during the party's convention in Brasilia May 18, 2013. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Aecio Neves, who has been elected as the new president of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), gestures as he speaks during the party's convention in Brasilia May 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's main opposition party moved closer to selecting a presidential nominee on Monday, after its candidate in the last election backed Senator Aecio Neves, former governor of Minas Gerais, the country's second-most populous state.

Jose Serra, a two-time presidential runner-up who took 44 percent of votes in the 2010 race against President Dilma Rousseff, said on his official Facebook page that the center-right PSDB should not lose time in nominating Neves.

Serra's go-ahead clears the stage for 2014, when Neves is expected to take on Rousseff. Her popularity suffered with public protests this year, but has rebounded thanks to low unemployment and well-regarded social programs.

The 53-year-old Neves is hugely popular in his home state but has been slow to gain traction in early national polling. He garnered 19 percent support compared to Rousseff's 47-percent backing in an opinion poll published by Folha de S.Paulo newspaper last month.

Serra has been reluctant about a full-throated endorsement of Neves, underlining internal divisions dragging on the PSDB. The party has failed to capitalize on the discontentment that brought over a million Brazilians into the streets in June to protest poor public services.

"Since most party leaders think it best to formalize as soon as possible the name of Aecio Neves to run for president, they should do so without delay," Serra said on Facebook. "I thank all those that have expressed their desire for me to run again, either personally or in polling."

(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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