Back, by popular demand

17/09/2006 | Thierry Ogier

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is almost guaranteed re-election when Brazilians head to the polls next month, shrugging off corruption concerns

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva looks poised to clinch an easy re-election at next month’s presidential poll. Economic and financial indicators shine as a bright spot and a strong electoral asset in the balance of his first presidential mandate. He may indeed be cruising towards an outright first round victory on October 1.

The blend of fiscal responsibility (“not spending more than you earn”) and social assistance (the flagship Bolsa Familia scheme) has worked wonders among a large number of voters, especially among the poorest part of the electorate.

Lula’s main opponent, Geraldo Alckmin, from the Social Democratic Party (PSDB), entered the official TV and radio electoral campaign in mid-August with a handicap of 25 percentage points. The former governor of the state of Sao Paulo has been praised for his competence, but he has emerged as a lacklustre candidate. Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso is among those who feel that Alckmin’s presidential campaign is not well-tuned and remains distant from the aspirations of Brazil’s social groups.

Meanwhile, Heloisa Helena, a combative hard left candidate, from the recently created Socialism and Freedom Party (Psol), is set to attract much of the protest vote, thanks to a mix of anti-capitalist rhetoric and moral values.

Income disparities are widely reflected in voters’ intentions, with the more affluent Brazilians leaning towards Alckmin and the low-income population preferring Lula. As a result, Rogerio Schmitt from the Tendencias consultancy sees “a very comfortable scenario” for Lula, and the incumbent’s lead is widely seen as irreversible. Most of the population has benefited from low inflation and job creation in the formal sector, real wages and consumer credit have increased, and 11 million poor families now benefit directly from the Bolsa Familia programme.

Nevertheless, Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), whose reputation has been marred by severe corruption allegations, does not enjoy the same popularity rating and is bound to lose seats in Congress and among state governors. Prospects for a governing coalition are still distant, as the main centrist Party of the Democratic Movement (PMDB) remains split (for and against Lula). As a result, the balance of power between the executive and the legislature may be even trickier than it has been during the past four years, and the chances of voting important structural reforms look slim.

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