Two Candidates Jockey for Lead in Brazil Contenders Chase Undecided Workers and Middle Class in Presidential Elections That Many Brazilians Hope Will Address Inflation, Unemployment, and Corruption

Article excerpt

THE campaign for Brazil's Oct. 3 presidential election has become a heated battle between the political left and right, and self-styled champions of the poor and middle class.

Brazilians hope to elect a president who can reduce last year's 4,000 percent inflation, huge unemployment, and widespread corruption by government officials. Brazil has the widest gap in the distribution of income between rich and poor in South America, and every major candidate talks of providing more income to the poor.

Recent public opinion polls show the field of nine candidates narrowed to two major contenders: Socialist Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union leader with a solid base among the working class, and former Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a Social Democrat who heads a coalition of center and conservative parties with strong backing from the middle and upper classes.

Victory will hinge on capturing the middle class and workers not yet committed to a candidate.

When the campaign began, the two major candidates offered starkly different visions of how to solve Brazil's problems. Mr. Cardoso advocates pro-US, free-market solutions such as privatizing state enterprises and balancing the federal budget.

Mr. Da Silva counters that such efforts to stabilize the economy are in effect "stabilizing poverty." He advocates a populist socialism that would restore cuts to social services and stop privatization policies, which he says will put money in workers' pockets and stimulate development.

For months, Da Silva led in the opinion polls by as much as 30 percent. Recently Cardoso has pulled ahead, with around 40 percent of voters' backing, according to three major polls.

In a Monitor interview, Da Silva conceded that his support has slipped, but said, "It's only temporary. The race is really beginning now in earnest."

Cardoso-backers say their candidate has pulled decisively ahead, based on the success of the government's anti-inflation efforts. As finance minister, Cardoso implemented a stringent economic plan that tripled prices of some consumer goods, but stabilized the currency, and has so far halted further inflation.

Brazil's 50 percent inflation in June dropped to 6 percent in July after the plan was enacted. Inflation is expected to run between 1 and 4 percent in August.

Cardoso's chief fund-raiser Luis Bresser, says of Brazil's 12 economic stabilization plans since 1979, "This is the best one. That is the main reason for Cardoso's massive increase in popular support. …