With three days to go before round one of the Brazilian presidential elections, it was clear that Social Democrat Aécio Neves and Socialist Marina Silva had everything at stake during the final televised debate.
The latest opinion surveys show a technical tie between both contenders, with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) out in front.
At the first opportunity, Neves aimed straight for Silva with a question about the period when she was environment minister between 2003 and 2008 under former president Lula da Silva.
“Marina, where were you during the mensalão scandal?,” he asked, in reference to a corruption case involving bribes to buy support for Lula’s first term in office.
He also highlighted Silva’s much-publicized changes of opinion on sensitive issues. “I’m not the one who changes political positions all the time,” he said. Silva, who used to belong to the PT before joining the Brazilian Socialists, has toned down her initial defense of same-sex marriage after a barrage of criticism from her fellow Evangelical Christians.
The face-off was certainly the most tense of the entire campaign, and the candidates were visibly nervous at times. While Neves was the more aggressive, Rousseff and Silva did not lag far behind.
“I suggest that Mrs [Silva] read what she has written on her program,” said Rousseff.
Her veins standing out on her neck, Silva said the president was the one who had failed to live up to her campaign promises. “Corruption was swept under the rug. You have an anti-corruption project, but it is not regulated. Was there a reward involved in the Petrobras dismissal?” she asked, in connection with a scandal involving the state oil company.
The debate got so heated that moderator William Bonner was forced to step in to end the escalating argument, which had gone over the established time limit.
Despite being the target of permanent attacks by Neves and Silva, Rousseff appeared comfortable in the knowledge that she was leading the voting intention surveys, as she answered questions on corruption, inflation and even the use of the mail service to favor her own campaign.
Meanwhile, the other four official contenders in Sunday’s election, who have no real chance of winning, were left to discuss sensitive issues that the three leaders have carefully avoided throughout the campaign: abortion, drugs and same-sex marriage.