Lula Takes Solid Lead in Brazil Elections; Candidate Looks for Outright win.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Sharon Nogueira, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …