Brazil is on tenterhooks. With five days to go before the presidential run-off on October 26th the race remains too close to call. But for the first time since the first round of voting two weeks ago the left-wing incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, has gained ground. On October 20th a poll by Datafolha put Ms Rousseff four points ahead of Aécio Neves, her centre-right challenger; last week Mr Neves was leading by a whisker. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. Ms Rousseff’s campaign, as cynical as it is formidable, has relentlessly (and unfairly) bashed the market-friendly Mr Neves for wanting to slash social programmes and govern solely for the rich elite. It has also attacked his record as governor of Minas Gerais, a big state which has just elected a governor from Ms Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) and where she beat Mr Neves in the first round (in part because the opposition vote was split between him and Marina Silva, a charismatic centrist who came third overall). “People who know Aécio don’t vote for him,” blare PT television ads, conveniently omitting to mention that whenever Mr Neves himself stood for elected office in Minas, he strolled to victory.
Acrimony came to a head in a bad-tempered debate on October 16th. The candidates traded charges of nepotism (over Mr Neves’s sister and Ms Rousseff’s brother, both employed in local administrations run by their respective parties) and corruption (leaked testimonies from a probe into a kickback scheme at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil company, fingered politicians linked to both candidates). On several occasions they accused each other of being “misinformed” about arcane facts and figures, leaving viewers baffled: unlike in first-round debates, campaign managers reportedly vetoed the presence of journalists to adjudicate such quibbles (or grill the candidates).
The electoral authority has since banned personal attack ads from both camps that it deemed “a disservice to fertile and genuine debate”. The tone in another hustings on Sunday was milder—but perhaps the pair were saving their ammunition for the final showdown, this Friday, on Brazil’s most watched network.