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Brazil Starts Final Phase of Presidential Elections

Campaigning has entered its final phase for Brazil's October 6 and politicians throughout the country are promising more jobs, cleaner government, and better services. This is true in remote towns in the interior of the Amazon rainforest.

Sound trucks with huge speakers circulate throughout the day and into the night in the city of Humaita, blaring campaign ads for various local and national candidates. The booming messages are just one aspect of the campaign. Houses, walls, and other surfaces of the city are covered with painted signs and slogans of the various parties.

At a political meeting in a local high school, candidates for the state legislature debate each other in an auditorium, their words drowned out by chattering students. Candidates make appearances before high school students because in Brazil the eligible voting age is 16.

One of those on the podium is state legislative candidate, Luis Perote Oliveira of the leftist Workers' Party. In an interview later, he says development and agriculture are the key issues in Humaita, a city of 26,000 people on the banks of the Madeira River. Another important issue, he says, is improving the Trans-Amazon highway, which crosses Humaita.

The highway, which stretches across northern Brazil for almost 5,000 kilometers, is largely unpaved. Mr. Perote says paving the highway is what people in the region want.

He said: "everybody wants this, they want it so much that in every election, all the politicians promise to improve the roads, and pave the highway."

But Mr. Perote went on to say nothing happens, and the Trans-Amazon highway turns into mud during the rainy season.

This complaint is heard again and again in Humaita and the surrounding region. Farmer Jose Louricini says the highway's poor condition prevents his products from getting to market.

"Our problem," he says, "is not with the land, because the land is very fertile. The problem is that the highway is not in condition for transporting goods."

Asked about the presidential race, Mr. Louricini says he will vote for an opposition party candidate because he is dissatisfied with the current government's record in developing the region around Humaita. However the farmer said he is still not sure which opposition candidate will get his vote.

Restaurant owner Flavio Alfonso Carioti also says he will vote for the opposition. He says his vote for president will go to Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva of the leftwing Workers' Party.

Mr. da Silva, who at 56 is making his fourth run for the presidency, has abandoned his socialist rhetoric of the past, and has become more moderate. The new Lula has convinced Mr. Carioti.

"Lula has changed," he says, "he is now a mature guy. No one knows if he will do what he's promised, but judging by what he says he's now more mature and talks more about the difficulties facing private enterprise."

On the Trans-Amazon highway where passing trucks kick up clouds of red dust, store owner Jorge Catuci says he and his neighbors want a new president to fix the highway so that, as he put it, it works. Mr. Catuci says the governing party's candidate, Jose Serra is the best choice.

"Because," he says, "the current president has been good, only a few things were not done right, like the highway, which is necessary for us."

The views expressed in the Amazon interior mirror what opinion polls are showing about the presidential election. Support for the three opposition presidential candidates totals around 70 percent of the electorate with Mr. da Silva holding a strong lead with about 41 percent. Mr. Serra, who represents continuity with the current government's policies, has around 19 percent, and is a distant second to Mr. da Silva.

If none of the candidates wins an absolute majority Sunday, the presidential race will be decided in a run-off election on October 27 between the top two contenders. But judging by the informal poll taken in the Amazon interior, the opposition stands a good chance of winning.