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Brazil Presidential Campaigning Ends; Voters Prepare to Cast Ballots

The latest public opinion polls in Brazil indicate leftist presidential candidate Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva could win Sunday's election with an absolute majority, thereby avoiding a runoff later this month. This is the fourth time the former labor leader has run for president, and many voters now believe he represents the kind of major change their country needs.

On Rio's world-famous Ipanema beach, the playful, sun-bathing cariocas, as the city's residents are known, seem little concerned with politics. But any mention of the election brings forth a flood of opinions about Brazil's weak economy, its rising crime rate and its failure to achieve its promise. There is an old saying here that "Brazil is the nation of the future and always will be."

Many younger Brazilians are no longer content with such expressions of irony. Even middle class professionals express frustration over what they see as entrenched corruption and one of the world's widest gaps between rich and poor. Around 50 million of Brazil's 170 million people live in poverty.

Bikini-clad twenty-eight-year-old architect Tatiana says political leaders have not solved the country's problems so the man known to all here as "Lula" should now be given a chance.

"He has good intentions and I think this is the time for him because he tried three times and he never won and I think this is the time for him," she said.

There is a fear among many in Brazil's financial community that a Lula da Silva victory could drive away foreign investment and create friction with the United States. But Tatiana says other countries should accept the decision of the Brazilian voters and not react negatively.

"Brazil is not just the rich people, it is everybody and it is a big country," she said. "It can live in a great partnership with the other countries without being their slaves."

On a nearby street, a woman named Esther holds a banner for another presidential candidate, but when asked, she says she plans to vote for Lula.

She says she is holding the sign because she is being paid to do so. She says she needs the job, but that, had she been asked to hold a Lula banner, she would have done it for free.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about Lula. His working class background and his populist rhetoric fails to impress business administrator Alberto.

He says he favors conservative candidate Jose Serra, but he realizes that Lula is likely to win. He says he worries about what impact that will have on the business sector and he questions why some business leaders have decided to support Mr. Da Silva.

Political analysts say Lula da Silva has gained such support by toning down his formerly strident tone and reaching out to moderate parties to form alliances. Although markets have reacted negatively to indications that he may win the election, some investors say they are willing to wait to see what Lula actually does if and when he assumes office.

In a shaded park, a young mother named Giselle watches her daughter playing and expresses fear for her future.

She says she is still undecided, but that she may vote for Lula. She says she worries about crime and violence and she says she is not sure any politician has the answer to the country's problems.

The campaigning in Brazil is now drawing to an end. Radio and television stations have already stopped running political advertising and the candidates have stopped all their campaign activities. The time has now come for the voters to express their decisions.