BRASILIA, Brazil (AFP) - Playing second fiddle to the injury woes of soccer star Neymar and the host country's bid for World Cup glory, Brazil kicked off on Sunday its campaign for October 5 general elections.
The continent-sized nation of 200 million will hold elections for the presidency, Congress, state governorships and state legislatures, and Saturday night marked the deadline for candidates to come forward and register.
Opinion polls make leftist President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) favorite to win a second term, albeit in a likely runoff, leaving rivals Social Democratic candidate Aecio Neves and Socialist Eduardo Campos trailing.
With the passing of Saturday's deadline, the candidates can take to the streets to press the flesh and hold functions, as well as campaign online. Television and radio advertising is only permitted from August 19.
A poll last week showed Rousseff with a 38 percent share, up four points, with the World Cup - which has generally passed off successfully - giving her an apparent boost.
The tournament ends on July 13 and a Brazil victory - they play Germany in the semi-finals but will be missing star man Neymar - would do Rousseff no harm at all.
Rousseff said she knew a tough battle lay ahead.
"I think this is going to be one of the most politicised campaigns in our history," she said in a video message, indicating she would seek to enact "the wide-ranging reforms that Brazil needs and will help us to effect great changes." Neves was up one point at 20 percent while Campos, whose running mate is ecologist Marina Silva, added two points but still is only on course for a nine percent vote share, according to Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
- High expectations -
But it is not all good news for Rousseff.
The Globo daily showed her struggling to hold support from two million urban lower middle class voters who previously voted for her PT predecessor, two-term former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whom she replaced in January 2011.
Rousseff has had to battle 12 months of protests against the US$11 billion-plus (S$13.7 billion-plus) cost of staging the World Cup, with many citizens complaining the cash would have been better spent on poor transport infrastructure, education and health.
During last year's Confederations Cup - a World Cup dress rehearsal - around a million Brazilians hit the streets, first of all to protest transport fare hikes but thereafter against the spiraling cost of the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The two mega-events are set to cost around $25 billion between them.
Under Lula, Brazil posted several years of strong growth. But the economy has been spluttering more recently with GDP forecast to grow this year only by around 1.0 percent.
Inflationary pressures are also dogging the economy, hovering just below the official ceiling of 6.5 percent. At the same time, Rousseff has pledged to raise welfare benefits for Brazil's poorest citizens.
Lula was credited with hauling tens of millions of people out of poverty through his Bolsa Familia policy, which included paying a small stipend to families provided their children attended school.
The presidential candidates' party machines will burn through 600 million reais (S$337 million) between now and the end of the campaign, according to calculations by Folha de Sao Paulo.
Rousseff and vice-president Michel Temer, of the centre-left Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), are campaigning under the slogan "with the strength of the people." But Globo highlighted the fact that as Brazil's middle class grows, so too do its expectations.
One analyst summarised their struggle to keep on rising up the social ladder with the observation, "the more you have, the more you want."