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Brazil's Lula captures a second term

The leftist president shakes off doubts and scandals and rolls to a landslide victory.

October 30, 2006|Patrick J. McDonnell and Marcelo Soares | Special to The Times

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — A chastened President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a landslide victory Sunday, gaining a second term as leader of Latin America's largest nation.

With 99% of the ballots counted, official tallies showed the leftist incumbent with 61% of the vote, compared with 39% for his challenger, former Sao Paulo Gov. Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party.

As the victory became clear and the chief of the electoral court declared the lead insurmountable, Alckmin called the president Sunday evening to offer congratulations.

Polls had shown the president, known as Lula, leading by more than 20 percentage points going into Sunday's vote after he failed to garner a simple majority to win the Oct. 1 general election.

Analysts said Lula's unremitting portrayal of Alckmin as a corporate lackey intent on giving away the government to private investors put the challenger on the defensive.

On the streets of this industrial city, activists wearing the red of Lula's Workers' Party started celebrating before the official results were announced.

"We in Brazil have the second opportunity to elect a working man," said Rosangela Rigo, 42, a psychologist dressed in red who was waiting in line for a movie after voting for Lula.

A smiling, relaxed Lula struck a magnanimous tone as he voted at a state school in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the industrial suburb near here where he got his start as an up-from-the-assembly-line union activist confronting corrupt bosses and the former military dictatorship.

'Magic moment'

Despite his first-round disappointment, Lula thanked God for the runoff vote, calling it a "magic moment" that galvanized his supporters.

"It was a way for the people to demand more of the candidates," Lula said of the second-round vote. "I'm happy because the Brazilian people recognized the work of the past four years and were very generous."

In brief remarks, Lula returned to trademark themes, promising to enhance education and improve income distribution in a nation of 185 million people that is widely regarded as among the world's more unequal societies.

Alckmin's candidacy was always a long shot, but corruption scandals swirling around Lula and his party sapped support and forced the runoff.

Several minor leftist candidates dismayed at Lula's economic pragmatism and his party's corruption also drew support away from the president in the Oct. 1 election. But the runoff featured two candidates, and many on the left seemed to think they had no choice but to vote for Lula.

"I voted painfully for Lula," said Cristina Figueiro, 35, a lawyer in Sao Paulo. "But when it comes to the second round, one has to choose between the dirty and the badly washed."

The president's backers said Lula would probably emerge stronger than ever after Sunday's vote. But opponents countered that Lula's poor early showing meant he would have to compromise more with the opposition on a range of economic and social challenges confronting Brazil.

Lacking a majority in Congress, Lula will be obliged to form coalitions to help push through his planned reforms.

The president has pledged to expand social service programs for the poor and working class, bolster the minimum wage, bring down interest rates and increase a desultory economic growth rate that has deeply worried many Brazilians, as has increasing crime.

Survived a scandal

Days before the Oct. 1 vote, the news media in Brazil published photographs showing stacks of cash totaling more than $700,000 that Lula backers allegedly planned to use to purchase information incriminating Alckmin's party.

Lula was forced to dismiss several advisors, and the scandal cost him votes in the first election.

Lula started off the second phase of the campaign slowly, stumbling in the first of four debates and acknowledging his poor performance. He had avoided debates altogether in the first round, apparently confident of victory.

But the charismatic incumbent eventually gained momentum and flashed the populist charm that helped propel him to office in 2002 on his fourth try at the presidency.

In the monthlong campaign, Lula, 61, painted Alckmin as a technocrat eager to slice social service programs begun during Lula's term and sell off public assets such as the national bank, postal service, the government-owned energy conglomerate Petrobras, and even the Amazon.

Alckmin denied the charges, at times donning jackets and caps emblazoned with the logos of state-owned companies. But his party's history of privatizing government assets left many poor and working-class workers wary that he might cater to his wealthy supporters at their expense.

"State ownership versus privatization became a mandatory theme in the political debate," said Helgio Trindade, a political scientist in Porto Alegre.

Some observers said Alckmin might have overplayed his image as a competent executive poised to topple Brazil's first working-class president. Lula's supporters rallied to the cry of defending the "people's president."

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