RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 06, 2014 (AFP) - Brazil's first female president, Dilma Rousseff, looks all but certain to win a second term after topping Sunday's first round vote despite taking flak from rivals for her handling of a recession-hit economy.
With nearly 99 percent of votes counted Rousseff had a tally of 41.46 percent, easily enough to send her into a run-off against Social Democrat Aecio Neves on 33.7 after he left environmentalist Marina Silva trailing in third on 21.29 percent.
Rousseff has been favorite to retain her post aside from a week in late August to early September, when polls made Silva a narrow run-off winner after she took the Socialist baton from Eduardo Campos, killed in an air crash.
Rousseff's triumph in 2010 was the culmination of a long political journey that began when she was a Marxist guerrilla tortured under the military dictatorship and saw her anointed as successor to mentor and two-term president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Rousseff, the 66-year-old daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant businessman, ramped up the huge welfare problems which had seen her predecessor and Workers Party (PT) mentor bask in huge popularity across his eight years in office.
She duly cruised past center-right rival Jose Serra in the 2010 poll with 56 percent of votes in the run-off, benefiting from Lula's aura and also strong growth.
- Growth pains -
But while she has retained support for broadening out the huge welfare programs which have lifted some 40 million people out of poverty over the past decade, Rousseff's four years in office have seen growth slide and the economy fall into recession.
As a result, her own rating dived when former PT colleague Silva arrived on the scene promising a "new politics."
But Rousseff pugnaciously attacked Silva, accusing her of wanting to rein in the social reforms which helped expand Brazil's middle class and underpinned a consumer boom which is now a fading memory.
By mid-September she had opened up a seven-point opinion poll lead which she carried on extending through to Sunday, blaming the economic slowdown on the global crisis, whereas her critics derided what they see as over-interventionist policy.
A cool technocrat -- and a cool campaigner compared to charismatic Lula -- Rousseff is known for her strong technical grasp of government business.
Lula was quickly won over by Rousseff, seeing "something different" about her.
He appointed her energy minister in his first term and then his chief of staff between 2005 and 2010, when she went forward as his choice of PT presidential candidate.
- Scandals dog campaign -
Rousseff has had to develop a thick skin. She has come under heavy fire from opponents in recent months over corruption scandals at state-owned energy giant Petrobras, whose advisory board she chaired when the firm purchased the Pasadena refinery in Texas for some 28 times what the previous owners had paid.
Congress is now investigating another scandal over allegations by a former Petrobras director that dozens of politicians -- many PT members or allies -- received huge kickbacks on oil deals.
During the opening ceremony of the World Cup, a tournament whose mammoth cost provoked public unrest, Rousseff responded to boos from fans by saying: "I have come up against hugely difficult situations in my life, including attacks which took me to the limit physically."
The comment alluded to the torture she suffered under the military.
"But nothing knocked me out of my stride," Rousseff added.
Born on December 14, 1947 to a middle-class family in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, Rousseff was soon engaged in dissident groups fomenting armed struggle against the 1964-85 military dictatorship.
Arrested at 22, she was tortured and spent almost three years in jail for subversion.
The twice-married Rousseff has a daughter, Paula, from a 30-year relationship with former second husband and fellow anti-dictatorship dissident Carlos de Araujo.
With Araujo, she helped found the Brazilian Labor Party in 1979.
She joined the PT in 2000 and worked for the party in the southern city of Porto Alegre before heading for Brasilia.
A year prior to the 2010 campaign, Rousseff was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and endured chemotherapy that forced her to cover up hair loss with a wig, which she at times used for self-deprecating jokes.