Preliminary ballot results indicate Brazilians have elected the country's first working class president by voting Sunday in overwhelming numbers for former factory worker Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the left wing Workers' Party. Preliminary returns from the runoff election show Mr. da Silva heading to victory with about 60 percent of the vote.
Mr. da Silva's resounding victory Sunday came as no surprise. Opinion surveys going into Sunday's runoff election showed him with a 30 point lead over his rival, centrist Jose Serra.
Mr. da Silva, a bearded and burly former union leader known universally as Lula, was making his fourth run for the presidency. In contrast to the past, this time he moderated his leftist views, and moved himself and his Workers' Party, P.T., toward the political center.
Mr. da Silva campaigned on promises to shift the current government's emphasis away from the free market-free trade economic model and divert more funds toward social programs.
Brazil, the world's ninth largest economy, suffers from widespread poverty. An estimated 53 million people, or almost one-third of the population, lives below the poverty line.
The victorious candidate's message appealed to voters like Marcia Britto, a doctor who told VOA Sunday Brazil needs major changes in health, education, and other areas.
"We need changes in everything," she said. "The country could be in much better shape, but is in very bad condition, so we need major changes."
Mr. da Silva, who will take office January 1, faces numerous problems, including making payments on Brazil's massive debt of $260-billion, reviving a stagnant economy, and alleviating the poverty. He also has to calm financial markets which have driven down the value of Brazil's currency by some 40 percent this year because of fears of a da Silva presidency.
Sunday's victory represents a major shift in Latin America, by bringing to power a left wing president, the first in Brazil since the early 1960s.
But analyst Alexandre Barros says the election of Mr. da Silva does not necessarily mean that the rest of Latin America will follow Brazil's example, in large part because he says Mr. da Silva is now considered more moderate.
"I think not per se. I think that people are going to pretty much see what Lula is going to do, if nothing else because the left is not necessarily very happy with Lula, quite the contrary," he said. "Many people on the left are criticizing him for having gone too far to the right… So I don't think it's going to be an automatic process, it's going to depend pretty much on his performance and I think there's still a lot to be seen." Mr. da Silva's victory prompted massive celebrations by supporters waving red Workers' Party flags in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Mr. da Silva's home.
The victorious candidate, who turned 57 Sunday, was born in northeastern Brazil, the country's most impoverished region. His family moved to Sao Paulo, where he grew up and became a metalworker and then union leader.
He gained renown in the late 1970s by leading strikes and opposing the military government at the time. After the return of democracy in 1985, he ran for president in 1989, 1994, and 1998, losing all three times.
After voting Sunday, Mr. da Silva said he is dedicating the election to Brazil's suffering poor. "It is now time for Lula," he told his cheering supporters.