Brazil's Lula Forced to a Runoff in Reelection Bid

By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 2, 2006

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Oct. 1 -- President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won the first round of Brazil's presidential election Sunday, but fell short of earning enough votes to avoid a runoff later this month against the second-place challenger.

With 99 percent of polling places accounted for, Lula received about 48.7 percent of the votes -- shy of the 50 percent needed to win reelection outright and avert an Oct. 29 runoff. The runner-up, former Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, received about 41.6 percent.

Lula, 60, cast his vote Sunday morning in Sao Bernardo do Campo, an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo, where he worked as a lathe operator and developed into an outspoken labor union leader who opposed the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s. Corruption scandals have hounded him during the past year, including one that surfaced just before the election charging that his campaign staff paid for damaging information about Alckmin.

That controversy, which continued to dominate headlines on election day, served as a last-minute life preserver that kept the conservative Alckmin's political hopes afloat. If the corruption controversy continues to simmer, his supporters say, they believe he might have a chance to unseat Lula.

"Alckmin can win if something else shows up with this scandal. And the way things are going in Brazilian politics right now, I'm confident that something else is going to show up," said José Carlos Brandt Silva, 62, a businessman who traveled more than 200 miles to vote for Alckmin in Sao Paulo, where his family is registered.

Arrest warrants have been issued for six members of Lula's Workers' Party who are accused of paying about $800,000 for information that allegedly proved corruption on Alckmin's part. Lula's campaign says that Alckmin's supporters desperately contrived the scandal just before the election. Lula fired his campaign manager last week after the allegations aired, though he has denied any involvement.

Overwhelming support from the poor has helped Lula weather the corruption scandals, which also included congressional vote-buying last year in which many members of Lula's party were implicated. His support rests on the fact that poverty rates have dipped since he was elected four years ago, thanks in part to increased government social spending, lower inflation and a stable currency.

"The whole Brazilian political system is corrupt, not just Lula," said Fernando Silva, 29, a furniture maker who voted for Lula at a Sao Paulo public school Sunday. "If Lula is involved in corruption, I think another president would have been even more involved than him. So I'd rather vote for Lula, because my life has changed with him. I'm working. I have my own business."

Alckmin, a medical doctor by training, struggled during the campaign to attract excitement among voters, many of whom had not heard of him before he entered the race in March. After serving as vice governor of the state of Sao Paulo, he advanced to the governor's seat in 2001 following the death of his predecessor.

"He doesn't have a history of being involved in competitive elections, and he's not very well known outside of Sao Paulo," said Maria Celina D'Araujo, a political scientist in Rio de Janeiro. "The image he has tried to project during the campaign is that of the doctor who is going to treat the corruption that Brazil suffers from."

The runoff is expected to force the candidates to clarify their agendas. Lula declined to participate in presidential debates during the first-round campaign, and Alckmin has offered few specific policy proposals.

Some of the challenges for the next president are already apparent, and the candidates might have mentioned them only rarely because of their potential to be politically explosive, analysts said.

For example, the social security system is heavily indebted, and many believe that reducing the generous payouts that retirees now receive is necessary to maintain economic stability. Many economists are also calling for changes in Brazil's labor laws, which offer strong protections for workers but are also believed to fuel a vast sector of workers who are not legally registered; about 55 percent of Brazilian workers are not on the tax rolls.

"The next president is going to have to approve some sort of social security reform, and the issue of labor reform is also going to come up," said Rogério Schmitt, a political analyst in Sao Paulo. "These are unpopular reforms, so the candidates have been very generalistic so far."

If Lula is elected -- and polls put him as the favorite in the runoff -- he will probably have to tackle those issues without much party support from either members of congress members and state governors -- positions that were also on the ballot Sunday.

During his first term, Lula was able to count on support from his party to direct legislation. But the party has been significantly weakened from the scandals, which could make things tougher for him in a second term. He will be forced to build a broader coalition, Schmitt said.

Many affiliated with Brazil's opposition parties are already looking forward to 2010. "Lula will have even more problems in his second term than he did in the first," said Fabio Mazzo, 26, an Alckmin supporter from Sao Paulo.

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