Brazil: Runoff Election Hands Second Term to President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva by Wide Margin

Article excerpt

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a second four-year term as Brazil's president after 61% of voters handed him a landslide victory in an Oct. 29 runoff. More than 58 million Brazilians voted for Lula. His opponent, former governor of Sao Paulo state Geraldo Alckmin, took 39% of the votes. Lula's Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and allied parties won another victory on Oct. 29 as seven of the 10 state governorships at stake in runoff elections went to Lula's allies. But Lula will face a challenge in the coming term as he will have to work with a legislature in which the opposition controls the largest bloc of seats.

Landslide similar to 2002

Lula failed to win 50% of the vote on Oct. 1, forcing a second round (see NotiSur, 2006-10-06). His failure to get a majority and Alckmin's higher-than-expected vote total put extra focus on various corruption scandals that have tarnished the PT's image and brought down a number of its high-ranking officials (see NotiSur, 2005-06-24 and 2005-09-09).

But the international press, initially impressed by Alckmin's surprise momentum in the first vote, was quickly agog at Lula's overwhelming popularity at the ballot box as the results became available in the hours after the polls closed. Opinion surveys prior to the election showed that Lula would trounce Alckmin by a margin of 20% to 25%, which proved to be a correct prediction.

Alckmin received 37.5 million of the valid votes counted by Brazil's electoral authority. With 1.3 million blank votes and 4.8 million nullified ballots, the total number of voters was just less than 102 million, about 81% of Brazil's 125 million registered voters.

Lula's landslide victory hands him a powerful mandate to press his anti-poverty agenda, although corruption scandals dogging the PT and thinner support in Congress could hinder his efforts to govern during his second term.

Lula's re-election reflected the support of tens of millions of poor Brazilians who rewarded him for easing poverty while improving the economy in Latin America's biggest nation.

Beaming as he wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with "It's Brazil's Victory," Lula promised to boost growth and further reduce Brazil's wide gap between the rich and poor. "We're going to do a lot better in my second term than we did in the first," Lula said following his victory. "We will continue to govern Brazil for everyone, but we will give the most attention to those who need it most. The poor will have preference in our government."

After repeatedly denying knowledge of corruption allegations that slammed the PT during the campaign, Lula acknowledged that the party faces a tough road ahead and must regain the prestige it once enjoyed as Brazil's most ethical party. "From now on we do not have the moral, ethical, or political right to commit errors," Lula told 5,000 cheering supporters in a late-night postelection street party on Avenida Paulista in the heart of Sao Paulo.

With 99.9% of the vote counted, Lula showed a 22-point lead against Alckmin. The number was nearly identical to Lula's 2002 victory against Jose Serra (see NotiSur, 2002-11-01), a fellow member of Alckmin's Partido da Social Democracia Brasiliera (PSDB). The PSDB selected Alckmin over Serra, partly fearing that another defeat for Serra in a race against Lula could ruin Serra's political future (see NotiSur, 2006-03-24).

While Lula wants to push important pension and tax reforms through Congress, his legislative support has diminished since he first took office in 2003 (see NotiSur, 2003-01-10). The PT lost several seats in Congress and will remain under investigation after the election because of the latest scandal-alleged plans by top members of the PT to pay US$770,000 in cash for an incriminating file about Alckmin's allies, which would violate campaign spending laws. Lula will have to deal with a host of difficult issues, from the back-to-back corruption scandals to criticism that Brazilian growth has lagged behind other Latin American economies. …