Marina wanted to a NUN, ended up in the Sea of Brazil

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brazil election 1

The Brazilian Socialist Party plans to launch environmentalist Marina Silva as its presidential candidate next week, replacing party leader Eduardo Campos who was killed in a plane clash, a senior party official said on Saturday.

The PSB, as the party is known, has agreed to rally around a Silva candidacy after she pledged to honor the party’s program and its regional alliances, said Beto Albuquerque, a party congressman from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

“She will be the PSB candidate and she will honor those agreements,” Albuquerque told Reuters. “Marina already signaled she will take over the candidacy.” Silva’s candidacy, along with the name of her running mate, is expected to be announced after a party meeting scheduled for Aug. 20, he said.

A former grass-roots environmentalist who once dreamed of becoming a nun has stormed to the forefront in Brazil’s presidential campaign, just three weeks after joining the race.

The first round of voting is still a month away. But Marina Silva’s dramatic rise in the polls as she seeks to unseat President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party has shaken the country’s political establishment.

“She is something new, like Obama. Something that wasn’t expected. Talking a new language,” said José Moisés, a political science professor at the University of São Paulo. “We are in front of a political phenomenon.”

Silva, 56, who was the environment minister in the Workers Party government of hugely popular president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has become the standard-bearer for the rival Brazilian Socialist Party. Polls show that support for her party has tripled since she was thrust into the race shortly after the Aug. 13 death in a plane crash of the original Socialist candidate.

If this mixed-race activist from deep in the Amazon, who has a radical past in liberation theology, did become president, it would be a major step toward equality in a country still largely run by a privileged, white elite. Yet Silva appears less likely to provoke Western powers than Lula occasionally did. Her party program highlights ties with China and Latin America, but also says that relations with the United States “need updating” and calls for a “mature, balanced and purposeful dialogue that doesn’t dramatize natural differences between partners with economic interests.”

This week’s polls show Silva and Rousseff each capturing about a third of the vote, with Aécio Neves, from the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) garnering about 15 percent. In a second-round simulation, the poll by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE) shows Silva at 46 percent to Rousseff’s 39 percent, giving her victory.

Rousseff had appeared to be a shoo-in for reelection. She was Lula’s handpicked successor. The Workers Party has run Brazil since 2003. During a decade of economic growth, millions of Brazilians rose out of poverty.

Eduardo Campos, the Socialists’ chosen candidate, was in third place, with 9 percent support, according to an earlier IBOPE poll, when he was killed last month. Silva, his running mate, began her campaign in Recife days after 130,000 people attended Campos’s funeral.

Humble beginnings

Winning the presidency would be a remarkable achievement for a woman who grew up in a poor family of Amazon rubber tappers, hoped to become a nun before turning to evangelical Christianity, and learned to read when she was a teenager. Her mother was white, her father is a mix of black and Brazilian Indian ancestry, said Marilia Cesar, who wrote a 2010 biography.

Silva’s growing band of supporters includes residents of Brazilian slums, or favelas, business people who like her party’s “third way” program, and evangelical Christians, an increasingly powerful demographic in Brazil.

She also attracts young, urban Brazilians who are disillusioned with politics. In research Moisés conducted this year, 82 percent said they did not trust political parties. A run of corruption scandals under Rousseff and Lula have exacerbated the distrust. “She is bringing the dissatisfaction of the Brazilians with the political system to the campaign,” Moisés said.

Those sentiments were echoed in the enormous Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, where Silva and other Socialist politicians campaigned last weekend.

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