Serra and rival Dilma Rousseff will face on October 31 in Brazil's run-off election [AFP]

Jose Serra, who represents the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), is the main opposition presidential candidate in Sunday's second round in the presidential elections.

Serra studied engineering at the University of São Paulo and was a prominent student leader when Brazil's military dictatorship came to power in 1964.

After the military coup, members of his student political movement began to suffer persecution, so Serra had to go into exile in Chile, as happened with many Brazilians at the time.

Once the Chilean president Allende was deposed, Serra went to the US, where he studied at Cornell University and spent 14 years in exile before returning to Brazil.

Political experience

Son of Italian immigrants, Serra was elected to congress in 1987 and served as health minister in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso from 1995 until 2002.

In 2004, Serra was elected mayor of Sao Paulo in the second round, beating Marta Suplicy who represented Luis Inacio Lula da Silva's Worker's Party.

In 2006, Serra resigned as mayor to run for governor of São Paulo state, winning in the first round. He held the position from January 2007 until April this year when he resigned to run for president.

Married to his Chilean-born wife, the 68-year-old Serra led in opinion polls early this year, until his rival from the ruling Worker's party, Dilma Rousseff, gained momentum.

Rousseff now leads in the polls after she failed to win an outright majority in the first round of voting on October 3.

With decades of experience in political life, Serra is probably the most prepared candidate for the job. He has not been tarnished by any major corruption, and he is a seen as the 'safe' choice by many Brazilians.

"In any other time period in Brazilian history, Serra would probably be elected. But he seems to find it difficult to connect with voters and break through Rousseff's wave of optimism," Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reported from São Paolo.

Campaign missteps

Surprisingly perhaps, given his decades in public office, there are few issues Serra can claim as his own. On top of that, he is a stiff campaigner and fails to connect with many working class voters. 

Serra has tried to push the idea that he is a proven and efficient administrator but that has hardly connected with voters. His campaign has been beset by small missteps.

Serra filmed one of his campaign commercials in a studio set of a fake favela - rather than in a real favela like his rival Rousseff did - which reinforced the idea that he is out of touch.

He has then changed his campaign strategy with one month left in the campaign, seemingly looking desperate.

Serra's selection of running-mate has also been mismanaged. Índio da Costa was not his first choice, but was picked because Serra wanted the Democrats political party support.

Costa is young and good looking, but is not well known in Brazil. Most political analysts see him as a lightweight.

Source: Al Jazeera