Brasilia: Brazil`s main opposition presidential candidate, Jose Serra, blasted the ruling party`s front-runner on Sunday with accusations of graft and dirty campaign tactics in a last-ditch attempt to dent her huge lead.
With only three weeks to election day, Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers` Party holds a 23-point lead over Serra in the latest poll and is on track to win the necessary absolute majority to avoid a run-off vote.
Early during a two-hour debate on Rede TV with three other candidates, Rousseff was repeatedly on the defensive, forced to defend her party against allegations of corruption and dirty tricks politics, as well as President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva`s close ties to Iran.
"Their democracy is one that uses the state apparatus to protect their comrades and persecute their adversaries," Serra said.
The former Sao Paulo state governor has for weeks accused the Workers` Party of having illegally accessed tax records of his daughter and other PSDB members to create a dossier against them.
The party denies the accusation.
Serra, who hopes to force Rousseff into a run-off vote, has been unable to narrow the front-runner`s lead.
Rousseff, a career civil servant, has benefited enormously from the support of Lula, who has become Brazil`s most popular president thanks to his folksy charm and a booming economy.
Lacking that charisma and common people`s touch, Rousseff stood her ground and stumbled less than she did during the first nationally televised debate more than a month ago.
But she left unanswered growing questions in a fresh graft scandal during her tenure as Lula`s chief of staff.
Leading news magazine Veja at the weekend accused Rousseff`s former aide and current chief of staff, Erenice Guerra, of involvement in a kickback scheme for public works contracts run by her son`s consultancy.
Rousseff said Guerra`s son should be investigated but that she had nothing to do with the case.
"I won`t accept being judged based on what happened to the son of a former aide," said Rousseff.
"It smells of an electoral manoeuvre consistently carried out against me and my campaign," she added.
The latest scandal featured prominently in all of Brazil`s major newspapers on Sunday. "I think they`re looking for a silver bullet," Rousseff told reporters late on Saturday.
"I`m sorry to say but they won`t find it."