Economic issues are at the top of voter concerns as Brazilians go to the polls. Former laborer and union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula", could win the presidency in the first round.

As voters register their decisions on Brazil's new electronic voting machines, unemployment and a stagnating economy are among their major concerns. Polls indicate that at least half of the nation's voters believe the man they call Lula could improve their lot.

If he wins 50 percent, plus one vote, he would become the next president of the world's fourth-largest democracy, and he would assume the responsibility of managing the world's ninth-largest economy. Many in the financial and business community question his abilities and have favored government-backed candidate Jose Serra.

Mr. Serra is far behind, with just more than 20 percent in recent polls, but analysts say he could gain support in a second round in which other candidates would be eliminated. "In an effort to boost his showing in this first-round vote, Mr. Serra spent his last hours of campaigning in the working-class areas of Sao Paulo. Lula has his campaign headquarters in Sao Paulo and is voting in the nearby town of Sao Bernardo do Campo, which is his hometown," one analyst said.

Police, backed by government troops, have spread out across the country to ensure that the voting process goes smoothly and peacefully. There are about 40,000 soldiers patrolling Rio de Janeiro after an incident last week in which major parts of the city were shut down by threats from a drug gang.