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After Shocking Election Season In Brazil, Incumbent President Still Holds Power


Let's talk now about close calls. In a moment we'll hear about baseball, first a very tight election in Brazil. Incumbent President Dilma Rousseff barely held off her challenger in the final round of voting held yesterday. From Sao Paulo, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: To cheers from her supporters, Dilma Rousseff took to the podium in Brasilia calling on the country to unite behind her.


PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The heat generated by these elections, she says, now needs to be transformed into constructive energy to create a new momentum in Brazil. She said she was open to dialogue and reform.

It's been a bruising, shocking election season in Brazil. One candidate was killed in a plane accident. The final days of the campaign between challenger Aecio Neves and Dilma Rousseff were rocked by a corruption scandal that implicated the ruling party. Attacks, both personal and political, were rife. In the end, though, the incumbent held on to power, but just barely. This was the tightest race ever in Brazil. The results show a country divided by race, class, color and region. The poorer, blacker North went for Rousseff in large numbers. The wealthier, whiter South supported Neves.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the end, though, it was voters like 41-year-old Antonio dos Santos who won it for Rousseff. Voting with his 2-year-old daughter in tow, he says before Rousseff's worker's party came to power in 2003, he had a part-time job and lived hand-to-mouth.

ANTONIO DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I voted for Dilma because she's the one who listens more to the poor, he says, who gave better conditions to the poor, who took the poor into the medical schools and the law schools. I have a son today, he says, who studies publicity without paying anything. It's a big victory for us. In recent years, he says, he's been able to buy a car and start his own business. He owns a minimart. He credits Rousseff and her mentor and presidential predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for the changes in his life. Under their policies, millions were brought out of abject poverty through government programs. Recently, though, Brazil's economy has sputtered with low growth and high inflation. Challenger Aecio Neves appealed to voters like investment banker Mario Pierre.

MARIO PIERRE: I work with the markets, so, you know, I know how bad it is, how poorly this country is being managed right now. Investors are really concerned about the direction that Brazil is going. I think we need to make changes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rousseff has been a divisive figure. For example, she was booed during the World Cup in Brazil. The election results show almost half the country wanted her out, but it wasn't enough.

Thiago de Aragao is a political analyst for the Arko Advice Consulting Firm. He says Rousseff cannot govern without restoring the confidence of those who voted against her.

THIAGO DE ARAGAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The election result shows a country that is divided, he says. What Dilma Rousseff has to do is truly promote a dialogue so that that division doesn't grow, he says.

DE ARAGAO: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Rousseff doesn't have a clear mandate. She will have to change. She will have to change her economic policies. She will have to reach out to her own party who have been disappointed in her performance and the opposition as well, he says, because in an emotional, polarized country, dialogue is the only way to restore balance. Lourdes Garica-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.