- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

SAO PAULO, Brazil Red and white fireworks lit up the Sao Paulo skyline last night as trade union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva balanced on the edge of winning an outright victory in Brazil's presidential elections.
Mr. Lula was leading the vote with 46.9 percent, while government candidate Jose Serra was in second place with 24 percent with just over half the votes counted. Mr. Lula needs 51 percent for a first-round win or he will face Mr. Serra once again in a second round Oct. 27, when voter intentions could change.
"I'll be very happy if he wins today," said state school teacher Ana Paula Gianezi, dancing with hundreds of other enthusiastic Lula supporters in a blocked-off section of the city's main Paulista Avenue.
"I believe Lula will invest in health and education for those who need it the poor," she said.
The bearded leader of the left-leaning Workers Party has appealed directly to the millions of Brazilians disillusioned with the persistent crime and growing gap between very wealthy and poor despite President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's success in stabilizing the country financially.
Thousands of people crowded the city's sidewalk cafes listening to the vote results, with many convinced the former metal-worker would soon head Latin America's biggest country and industrial powerhouse.
"This is the beginning of a democracy," said law student Jose Borges Jr, as Mr. Lula edged ever closer to ending 18 years of right-leaning governments that followed two decades of military dictatorship.
Others were doubtful: "Lula will never be president. He doesn't have the education, and he doesn't have any experience," said Stephanie Ramos, 19, drinking a glass of sugar-cane juice after casting her vote for Mr. Lula's main rival, government candidate Jose Serra.
But Mr. Lula's lack of a formal education has not put off millions of others who believe having a working-class person in the presidency will ensure that the poor and working class will receive help.
"Brazilians are for the first time feeling like they are part of the government," said Ronaldo Villalto, 23, a marketing student in Sao Paulo. "Lula is Brazil."
Voting is mandatory in Brazil and the polling stations around the country were crowded as 115 million voters from the poor villages in the north to the wealthy cities of the south punched in their choice of candidate.
Born into a poor family in northeastern Brazil 56 years ago, Mr. Lula moved with his family down to the crowded southern industrial city of Sao Paulo while still a child, selling oranges and shining shoes to help his family make ends meet.
By the time he was 30 he had founded the Workers Party and was elected president of a local metal-working union. He led a number of strikes in defiance of the military dictatorship of the time and ended up in jail.
His political career began the day he was released.
In his previous three failed runs at the presidency, Mr. Lula was known for his fiery rhetoric, slamming the International Monetary Fund and vowing to default on the country's swelling debt.
But armed with a new marketing manager, Mr. Lula shed his socialist promises for vows to create a coalition of business and workers, traded in his T-shirt for a formal suit and tie, trimmed his beard and veered his party toward the center.
If he wins, Mr. Lula's greatest challenge will be leading lead this country of 170 million people plagued by high unemployment, corruption and poverty while increasing exports and paying off the $260 billion debt.
Mr. Lula is known for his ability to negotiate, something he will need to deal with the nation's powerful but fractious Congress. His party is not expected to win more than 30 percent of seats, and he will have to deal with skittish international investors who are not sure of his politics.
The United States is the largest foreign investor in the Brazilian economy, which has seen its currency slide in recent weeks as speculation as to who was going to win the election worried the markets.
But bankers and even members of the IMF are beginning to think that, hemmed in by an IMF loan agreement that he agreed earlier in the year to honor, and given his recent veer to the center, Mr. Lula will play politics more down the middle.


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