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Brazil Prepares for National Elections on Sunday


In Brazil, security forces are being deployed throughout the country to ensure a peaceful vote Sunday in national elections. A leftist candidate is the front-runner in the presidential race, but a new opinion poll shows he may fall short of winning the absolute majority necessary to avoid a second round.

Some 115 million Brazilians are eligible to vote Sunday to choose a new president, a new lower house of Congress, two-thirds of the Senate, and governors of Brazil's 26 states and federal district. Representatives to the state Congresses also will be elected.

However, the focus is on the presidential race, where four major candidates are vying for the job, held for almost eight years by outgoing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Front-runner Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, of the leftwing Workers' Party (PT), holds a strong lead, and could win the absolute majority necessary to avoid a second round. However, an opinion survey published Saturday showed Mr. da Silva holding steady at 43 percent, indicating he may fall short of an outright victory.

His closest rival, Jose Serra, of President Cardoso's governing coalition, is running a distant second. Mr. Serra, a former health minister, is hoping he and the other candidates can draw enough votes away from Mr. da Silva to force a second round. If this happens and Mr. Serra comes in second, he and Mr. da Silva would face off again on October 27.

Mr. da Silva, a bearded former union leader commonly known by his nickname "Lula," is making his fourth run for the presidency. He has abandoned his radical rhetoric of the past, and promises to revive a stagnant economy, while investing more money in social programs.

University of Brasilia political scientist David Fleischer says poor economic growth and other problems are helping Mr. da Silva's candidacy.

"The most important, of course, is the dismal performance of the Cardoso government in its second term," Mr. Fleischer said. "A lot of dissatisfaction in the population, especially with the economy, unemployment, problems with the delivery of public health, a general discontent with the Cardoso government."

The Brazilian economy, the world's ninth largest, grew by just 1.5 percent last year, and is not expected to surpass two percent this year.

Poverty also remains widespread, though it has declined during the Cardoso years. Still, 53 million people, out of a population of 170 million, live below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, army troops are being deployed in Rio de Janeiro, following threats by drug gangs to disrupt the elections. Some 3,000 soldiers are taking up positions around the city, while another 8,000 are standing by.

About 30,000 police also will be deployed to maintain order. The heightened security follows last Monday's shutdown of stores, schools, and even banks across the city, following threats by drug gangs. Federal troops also are being sent to almost a dozen other states to ensure a peaceful election.

Sunday's vote will be the fourth direct presidential election in Brazil since the return of democracy in 1985, following 21 years of a military dictatorship. Brazilians will cast their ballots electronically, at 406,000 electronic voting machines throughout the country.

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