Brazil's Lula Poised to Earn Four More Years at the Helm ; despite a Corruption Scandal in His Party, Brazilians Are Set to Reelect President Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva on Oct. 1

By Andrew Downie Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Brazil's Lula Poised to Earn Four More Years at the Helm ; despite a Corruption Scandal in His Party, Brazilians Are Set to Reelect President Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva on Oct. 1


Andrew Downie Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It is a sultry Friday night in Rio de Janeiro, and thousands of Brazil's evangelical Protestants have come to this suburban plaza for a political rally.

The main attraction is Marcelo Crivella, a fervent pastor and candidate for Rio governor. But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is on stage with him sharing the adulation, and with Brazil's Oct. 1 presidential election fast approaching, Lula looks certain to remain in the spotlight for at least four more years.

Out in the plaza, Lula voters wave flags. Vera Lucia Andrade says she will vote for him because he has helped Brazil's poor. Gilson Amorim says he will vote for him because he has been a good president. And Fatima Gomes will vote for him because she can't remember the names of any other candidates.

Taken together, those reasons explain why Lula appears set to be reelected, in spite of a government that has been widely condemned for institutionalizing corruption and has failing to keep most of its promises to radically change Brazil.

"I think that what this election tells us is that people think the government is on the right track, even though there are still lots of problems," said Carlos Ranulfo de Melo, a political scientist at the Minas Gerais Federal University and an author of two books about Brazil's political parties. "People are not enthusiastic about their decision [to back Lula], but no one wants to risk changing the government while it is doing OK."

With less than two weeks to go until voting, Lula is about 24 percentage points ahead of his closest challenger, Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party. Some polls even show him winning the absolute majority that would help him avoid a runoff election three weeks later.

Lula has won kudos for keeping the economy stable, but it has not grown as fast as people had hoped. Brazil's 2.6-percent growth rate under Lula is about half the average in South America. The main reason for his commanding lead in the polls, according to both political analysts and ordinary voters, is that Lula has given generous handouts to the country's poor.

Lula took the existing Bolsa Escola program that paid families a small stipend to keep their children in school and expanded it to help poor families pay for food, gas, and other necessities.

Today, more than 11 million families - about 45 million people - get money from the program, according to statistics from the Social Development Ministry. The aid guarantees survival for millions of people and is a key reason many are voting for Lula, analysts say.

"The PT wouldn't have been proud of the Bolsa Familia 10 years ago because it's paternalistic," says Timothy Power, a lecturer at Oxford University's Center for Brazilian Studies. "But it is definitely going to win them the election. That and the fact that the minimum wage has gone up by about 23 percent in real terms since 2003, which is pretty incredible. The poor are much better off."

Overlooking corruption

Those handouts have encouraged the poor to overlook what many middle-class Brazilians believe to be the shocking corruption of Lula's administration. Lula's Workers' Party was implicated last year in a cash-for-votes scandal that, experts say, institutionalized longstanding graft.

Mr. Amorim, like many of those who plan to vote for Lula, said that he believes Lula did not know about the scandals that plagued his administration and led several senior members of his party to resign. Lula has always denied knowing that his government gave deputies cash for votes in Congress.

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