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Theme of Change Resonates with Brazil Electorate; Lula Victory Forecasted - 2002-10-27

Brazilians are voting in a presidential runoff election that appears certain to result in a landslide victory for leftwing candidate Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva. If elected, Mr. da Silva will become Brazil's first working class president.

Even before voters began casting their ballots in Rio de Janeiro, morning newspapers such as the Jornal do Brasil predicted Mr. da Silva's almost certain victory by a wide margin. "Ex-Factory Worker Will Be Elected President Today" blared the Jornal's headline, citing opinion polls showing Mr. da Silva with up to 64 percent against his rival, centrist Jose Serra.

At voting centers in the affluent Rio neighborhood of Leblon, people like electrical engineer Alvaro de Mendes Silva said he believes the man known universally as Lula can make a difference. "I am very confident that Brazil can progress and have new better days with Lula, and Serra too, but I think Lula has more freedom to make the changes the country needs," Mr. Silva said.

Doctor Marcia Britto, who also voted for Lula, agreed, saying Brazil needs changes in health, education, and other areas. "We need changes in everything, she said the country is in very bad shape, so we need major changes, but good ones," he said.

Mr. da Silva, a former union leader making his fourth run for the presidency, campaigned on the theme of change. But in contrast to previous elections, he dropped his fiery leftist rhetoric of the past and moved himself and his Workers' Party toward the political center.

Voter Alexandre Netzinsky, who cast his ballot for Jose Serra, seemed resigned at the prospect of a Lula victory. But he said Mr. da Silva would be unable to move the country radically to the left. "I think he will not make any kind of mistakes, he cannot afford to make mistakes because what he used to offer Brazil five years ago when he was trying to be elected was completely different from today. Now he and his group realize he cannot make that change ... because if he does make mistakes he will never elected anymore and his party never again," he said.

Mr. da Silva, who turns 57 on election day, has promised changes in the current government's economic policies that have favored free markets and free trade. The burly former metalworker also has pledged to revive Brazil's stagnant economy while enacting more social programs to alleviate widespread poverty.

Up to one-third of Brazil's 170 million people live below the poverty line.

Rival Jose Serra, who was health minister in the current center-right government, campaigned on promises to keep Brazil on the path of fiscal stability. At the same time, Mr. Serra also stressed he would improve government social programs to attend to the needs of Brazil's poor.

But Mr. Serra, who came in second in the first round on October 6, suffered from a lack of charisma that prevented him from gaining widespread support. The unpopularity of the current government also hurt his chances.

First vote results are expected soon after the polls close late in the day. If Mr. da Silva wins, he will become Brazil's first leftwing president to rule the South American giant since the early 1960s.