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'Lula' da Silva Predicted to Win Runoff Election in Brazil - 2002-10-23


In Brazil, the latest public opinion poll shows leftist presidential candidate Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva heading for an easy victory in Sunday's election. Mr. da Silva's likely victory is being seen by some analysts as a desire for change in a country where poverty and inequality remain widespread.

Brazil is poised to elect a former metalworker and union leader as president to lead the world's ninth largest economy for the next four years. The latest poll shows Mr. da Silva with 60 percent of the intended vote, compared to 32 percent for his centrist rival, Jose Serra.

Mr. da Silva, known universally as Lula, has run a nearly flawless campaign after failing to win the presidency in three previous elections. He did this by moving himself, and his Workers' Party, or PT, toward the political center.

In previous elections, Mr. da Silva espoused socialist solutions for the country's ills, more state control of industry, more protectionism, and a moratorium on the foreign debt. But the electorate in 1989, 1994, and 1998, rejected Mr. da Silva in favor of centrist candidates. This time, Mr. da Silva moderated his views.

He courted the private sector, talked about the importance of free markets, and even agreed to abide by the terms of a massive loan from the International Monetary Fund. The $30 billion loan, granted to Brazil in August, calls for continued economic austerity measures in return for loan disbursements this year and next.

His strategy seems to have worked. Mr. da Silva finished first with 46 percent of the vote in the October 6 election, defeating his three chief rivals. Because he did not win an absolute majority, the former labor leader was forced into the October 27 runoff against Mr. Serra, the candidate of Brazil's governing coalition who came in second.

Christopher Garman, a political analyst at a Sao Paulo consulting firm says Mr. da Silva's chances were strengthened by the results of the first round which also gave his party important gains. "What happened is that, after the election result, that image of Lula as a non-threatening Lula was actually solidified. Voters saw that the PT did very well in the polls, that the PT elected the largest number of deputies in the Chamber of Deputies, and therefore they saw Lula as capable of governing the country. So, in other words, the actual results of the first round facilitated his electoral strategy of presenting himself as a new and moderate candidate on the left," he said.

Rival Jose Serra has tried to make up ground by warning Mr. da Silva is unqualified to be president. In campaign ads and appearances, Mr. Serra has pointed to the crises in neighboring Argentina and Venezuela as dangerous examples of what happens when inexperienced or leftist candidates become president.

But this strategy appears to have failed. Mr. Serra also appears not have benefited from months of financial market uncertainty over a possible Lula victory. Market fears over the future of Brazil's debt and Mr. da Silva's leftist past have caused the value of the currency, the "real", to fall by 40 percent against the dollar this year.

But analyst Garman says voters apparently do not blame Lula for the economic crisis. "Voters blamed the government for the financial crisis and not Lula... So there you have a dual dynamic: on the one hand, Lula has the opportunity to present himself in a non-aggressive manner and work on all his negatives and the voters become less worried about a Lula victory, or at least they see Lula less threatening, while on the other hand the desire for change also increases because of the economic crisis and leads to a drop in the popularity of the government. This is a long way of saying that the dynamics of the first round carried over to the second, and made the task by Serra of deconstructing Lula much more difficult," he said.

If Mr. da Silva wins, he will succeed two-term President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. In his eight years, Mr. Cardoso tamed hyperinflation, enacted a series of free market reforms, and made significant advances in promoting universal education.

But while the economic reforms increased productivity and efficiency, they did little to affect the distribution of wealth or the persistence of poverty. An estimated 53 million people in a population of 170 million still live below the poverty line. Meantime, unemployment is on the rise, increasing to 7.5 percent in September, its highest level since 1998.

All this would seem to lead an electorate to choose change over the status quo, which is what Brazilian voters appear prepared ready to do on Sunday.

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