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Brazil Prepares for Presidential Vote

  • Michael Bowman

Widely viewed as an emerging world power, Brazil chooses a new leader October 3. If pre-election polls are accurate, outgoing President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva's hand-picked nominee is favored to succeed him and become Brazil's first female leader.

More and more, Brazil is flexing its bulging economic muscle. At a time of constrained global economic expansion, Brazil's projected seven-percent growth rate this year is among the world's highest. An exporting dynamo, Brazil boasts the world's third-biggest airplane manufacturer and agricultural production that could one day rival that of the United States. It is also a world leader in bio-fuels and alternative energy.

Basking in the glow of Brazil's performance is President 'Lula' da Silva of the center-left Workers' Party, who has led the country for the last eight years.

At a recent campaign rally, Mr. da Silva said that Brazil enjoys stable and accelerated economic growth, which will allow the society to flourish and guarantee a better country for its sons and daughters.

The president prepares to leave office as one of Latin America's most popular leaders, with domestic approval ratings consistently above 60 percent. His chosen successor, his chief of staff, economist Dilma Rousseff, has pledged to build upon Mr. da Silva's accomplishments.

Rouseff says Brazil will be one of the world's most dynamic countries in the next decade. She says foreign investors have a special environment in the country: a stable democracy with no ethnic conflicts, no wars.

Rousseff's strongest opponent is Sao Paulo State Governor Jose Serra, who says Brazil can do even better than it has of late.

Serra says there is still much to be done, and that if we compare the progress other countries have achieved with Brazil's potential, there is one inescapable conclusion: Brazil can be even more than it is today.

Serra belongs to the center-right Social Democracy Party of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who preceded Mr. da Silva and is credited with many economic reforms that came to fruition during the Lula presidency.

Former New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter spent more than a decade reporting in Brazil and has written a book on the country, "Brazil on the Rise".

"There has been enormous continuity in [Brazilian] economic and social policy," said Larry Rohter. "Lula was elected promising a 'rupture' with capitalism. To his credit, that did not occur. He has, in fact, expanded and deepened many of the social and economic policies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso years."

Rousseff has no prior experience in elected office, and allegations of influence-peddling have been leveled against members of her staff. Nevertheless, she is widely expected to win the presidential vote, possibly in the first round, according to Rohter.

"Lula wanted her to be president, his successor," he said. "And he has stumped [campaigned] for her. He has been all over the country and made it clear that she is his candidate. The big question was: can he transfer his popularity to her? At this juncture, it looks like the answer is yes."

Analysts say Brazil is experiencing growing pains that will require the next president's attention, including an overburdened and inadequate infrastructure and transportation system.

Investors initially greeted Mr. da Silva's presidency with panic, fearing that the former labor leader and leftist firebrand would strangle Brazil's private sector. No such anxiety surrounds the country's current presidential vote, according to Latin America investment and bond analyst Shelly Shetty of New York-based Fitch Ratings.

"We do not expect either of the front-runners, Dilma Rousseff or Jose Serra, to materially undermine the current macro-economic pillars or settings of Brazil," said Shelly Shetty. "The question is whether the next president takes a strong economy and makes it even stronger, or misses the opportunity of taking Brazil to the next level."

And that next level could include greater diplomatic clout. Brazil is one of several emerging world powers pressing the United Nations for an expansion of permanent seats on the Security Council.

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