Re-election seems sure for president of Brazil

Da Silva in lead going into runoff

October 29, 2006|By New York Times News Service

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Rebuked at the polls four weeks ago because of voter irritation with a corruption scandal and his unwillingness to answer questions about it, Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, heads into a runoff vote today with a lead that every poll suggests is insurmountable.

A win would guarantee him another four years in office.

A final round of public opinion surveys published Friday shows da Silva, a former factory worker and labor leader, defeating his opponent, Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, at least 60 percent to 40 percent. More than 125 million Brazilians are registered for the runoff vote, which is required because da Silva fell just short of a majority in the first round of balloting Oct. 1.

"Everything indicates that this is going to be a resounding, unquestionable victory for [da Silva], despite all the scandals," said Jairo Nicolau, a political science professor at Candido Mendes University. Nicolau said that if the polls were right, da Silva would duplicate the landslide victory that carried him into office in 2002.

Alckmin, a 53-year-old physician and former governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's richest and most populous state, was able to force a second round largely because of a late-breaking political scandal. In mid-September, the police apprehended operatives of da Silva's left-wing Workers Party as they were about to pay $792,000 in cash for a dossier they apparently hoped would incriminate Alckmin's camp in a notorious corruption scheme.

Da Silva, who turned 61 Friday, has denied any involvement in the skulduggery, which forced the resignation of his campaign manager and was, according to the police, organized by his former bodyguard and several other aides and friends.

Da Silva has been able to pull away from Alckmin over the past several weeks, in part, by labeling him a one-note candidate who spoke more of corruption than of his plans for Brazil.

The campaigning for the runoff featured relatively little in the way of conventional rallies and marches. Instead, both da Silva and Alckmin focused their efforts on the news media and on forming alliances, some of them ideologically illogical, with the governors, mayors, legislators and other local political bosses who are traditionally the power brokers in Brazilian politics.

Last week, for example, da Silva campaigned alongside the scion of one of the conservative family dynasties that he always blames for the poverty and backwardness of his native Northeast region. Alckmin, whose party is center-left, was pilloried for allying himself with the populist former governor of Rio de Janeiro state, nominally a leftist like da Silva but one of the president's main rivals.

Da Silva has offered only one formal news conference since taking office in January 2003, and also chose to absent himself from a candidates' debate just before the first-round vote. Polls cited that decision, seen as arrogant, as one of the reasons for a sudden drop in his popularity, and during the second round of campaigning he was much more available, agreeing to four debates.

The last of those debates took place Friday night, with a panel of undecided voters supplying questions. They raised issues including health and housing, and environment and unemployment, but inevitably the long list of corruption scandals also came up.

"The scandals just don't stop," Alckmin said, at one point turning away from the panel to face da Silva directly. "They haven't learned."

Da Silva responded that no government had done more than his to root out corruption, which he described as "a tumor embedded" in the Brazilian body politic. In his closing remarks, he promised to work harder for poor Brazilians and portrayed himself as the victim of the animus of the privileged and wealthy.

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