Lula set to win Sunday's poll, needs unity

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is set to clinch victory in a run-off election on Sunday but will have to forge national reconciliation after an acrimonious campaign.

Lula is expected to win over former São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin with about 61% of the vote, with 39% going to Alckmin two polls showed on Saturday.

This would be a remarkable comeback from a series of corruption scandals over the past two years that had threatened to end the political career of the former union leader.

“Lula is the Teflon president par excellence,” said Walder de Goes, a political consultant in Brasilia. “But he needs that ample victory to renew his legitimacy.”

Lula failed to obtain an absolute majority in an October 1 vote after his ruling Workers’ Party spearheaded an attempted smear campaign against opposition candidates, recalling several prior corruption scandals.

The charismatic former union leader bounced back by labeling Alckmin as a heartless cost-cutter who would slash welfare programs and sell off strategic state enterprises. Alckmin is supported mainly by rich and better-educated voters.

Roughly 125-million voters, or two-thirds of the country’s population, will also cast their ballots in 10 gubernatorial run-off races on Sunday.
Electoral authorities expect to have tallied 90% of the votes by 10pm.

Conservative economic policies and dodgy alliances with right-wing parties alienated Lula’s traditional supporters.

But he remains enormously popular, especially among the poor, because of rising purchasing power and expanded welfare programmes.

In a final TV debate on Friday night the burly, gray-haired Lula, who speaks with a slight lisp, resorted to the kind of folksy humor and talk of the common man that helped him regain popular support in the second round of the campaign.

“I didn’t vote for Lula in the first round because of all the sleaze and corruption surrounding him,” says Michel Lacerda Queiroz, a locksmith in Brasilia’s posh Lago Sul district.

“But in the end he did more for the people than other presidents. I’m afraid with Alckmin the poor would go back to where they’ve always been in this country.”

Despite divisive campaign rhetoric, both candidates adhered to the same fundamental economic policies that have made Brazil a favorite on Wall Street in recent years. Such policies include a floating exchange rate, inflation targets and budget savings to service public debt.

But an acrimonious campaign left deep scars in Brazil’s already divided political landscape and Lula still faces pending investigations into his party’s dirty-tricks scandal, which could challenge his legitimacy.

“He will be forced to practice consensus politics—reconciliation is the agenda of the day,” said De Goes. - Reuters

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