Brazilian presidential hopeful Aecio Neves on Sunday earned a key endorsement in his bid to defeat incumbent Dilma Rousseff -- from environmentalist candidate Marina Silva.
Neves, a Social Democrat, lost to Rousseff in the first round a week ago, but opinion polls now show him in a statistical dead heat with her ahead of the October 26 run-off -- making Silva s backing vital.
The pair are battling to run Latin America s largest country of 202 million, which is also the world s seventh-largest economy.
Taking into account the policy commitments made by Aecio Neves, I declare my support. I vote for Aecio Neves, said Silva, whose once promising campaign flamed out in the first round.
Silva said the pro-business Neves had moved sufficiently close to her positions on several issues to warrant her endorsement.
I see a swath of historic commitments, said Silva, citing Neves s promise to maintain social welfare programs that have lifted tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty over the past decade.
Silva, who campaigned on a promise of a new politics, garnered 22 million votes in the first round -- which Neves must court if he is to win.
Neves, the 54-year-old scion of a political dynasty and business-world favorite, must persuade at least six in 10 Silva voters to back him if he is to overcome Rousseff s eight-point victory in the first round.
The incumbent -- Brazil s first woman president and a former leftist guerrilla once imprisoned and tortured by the country s military regime -- is bidding to hand her Workers Party (PT) a fourth straight term.
Latest polls show Neves leading Rousseff by 46 percent to 44 percent -- well within the margin for error.
He did not disguise his joy upon hearing of Silva s endorsement, telling reporters during a visit to the shrine to Our Lady of Aparecida outside Sao Paulo: With the blessings of Our Lady, I say that today is a glorious day for our path.
But the incumbent appeared undaunted, saying it was understandable and adding: I don t think there will be any automatic transfer of votes for anyone. I believe in democracy.
Silva, who ran on the Socialist Party (PSB) ticket after initial pick Eduardo Campos died in an August plane crash, made Neves wait before offering her support.
He has already obtained endorsements from both her party and the Greens.
- Compromise to win votes -
Neves insisted last week he would not scrap key policies to win over Silva -- and her supporters.
He remains opposed to reducing the age of responsibility from 18 to 16 for serious crimes, while promising measures to prevent youngsters falling into crime.
But he is prepared to make other changes to his platform.
They include agricultural reform, changes to Indian land rights, devoting more resources to sustainability and education, and limiting the presidential tenure to one five-year term rather than the current two consecutive four-year terms.
Many Brazilians say they want change. More than a million took to the streets in June last year to denounce the rising cost of public transport, poor public services and corruption.
But the bulk of the PT s welfare programs retain broad support, and Neves will essentially maintain them.
Rousseff has strong support in the north of the country, with Neves leading in the south.
But she has been hampered during the campaign by allegations of corruption at state-owned oil giant Petrobras, which she formerly chaired.
A former Petrobras director has caused a political storm with allegations that dozens of mainly PT or PT-allied politicians benefited from a huge kickbacks scheme.
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