Lula's Back in Town. (Comment)

Article excerpt

On October 6 Brazilian voters propelled Workers' Party candidate Luiz Inacio da Silva, or "Lula," as he is known, one step closer to the presidency of the second-most-populous country in the Americas. It remains to be seen whether Brazil will help advance a recent trend in Latin America, which started with the election of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, of the poor and working people electing leaders who look and talk--and, more important, in many ways think and feel--like they do.

Lula, a former metalworker and union leader, took 46 percent of the valid ballots cast. That was less than the majority needed to avoid a runoff, so he faces Jose Serra of the governing coalition on October 27. Serra, a lackluster candidate, finished second with 23 percent of the vote.

The conventional wisdom has been that Lula could only win in the first round; in a runoff, all the forces that want to preserve the status quo would unite and pull out all the stops to defeat him (they were relatively restrained in the first round). But this election, Lula's fourth attempt, may be different: He has never before placed first in the first round of voting, and this was by a pretty wide margin. And with a stagnant economy, rising unemployment and anemic growth (about 1.3 percent annually, per capita) to show for its eight years in power, the ruling coalition has little to brag about. And finally, two days after the first round, third-place finisher Ciro Gomes, with 12 percent of the vote, announced his "enthusiastic support" for Lula. …