Historic Presidential Race a Tossup
Millions voting for first time must choose between two radical visions for nation's future. BRAZILIAN ELECTIONS: ROUND 2
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
BRAZILIAN voters will choose as president this Sunday either a socialist union leader or a wealthy populist who has run against the country's establishment. Missing from this first direct vote in almost 20 years is the middle of the political spectrum. The centrist parties found themselves at the bottom of the heap in the first round of voting on Nov. 15, blamed by millions of Brazilians for their support of a government incapable of halting rampant inflation or addressing dire economic and social problems.Skip to next paragraph
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The Dec. 17 election, which will complete a gradual return to democracy that began in 1978, is expected to be close. It pits Luis An'acio da Silva - known as Lula - of the Workers' Party, against Fernando Collor de Mello, a former state governor and corruption fighter who created the National Reconstruction Party expressly for his presidential run.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Mr. da Silva has been closing in on Mr. Collor's initial 10-point lead in the opinion polls. The latest opinion polls released yesterday indicated a difference of one point between the two candidates, with Collor showing 46 percent of the intended vote and Da Silva, 45 percent. It's a tossup, analysts say.
No matter who becomes the country's first popularly elected president since 1960, the risks for Brazil are big. Analysts say that the danger with Collor is his personalist approach. If his policies don't work, ``he could appeal to the people [to move] against Congress, institutions, legal forces,'' says Jos'e Augusto Guilhon, head of the University of Sao Paulo's political science department. ``Look at the language he uses: `I and the people.'''
Da Silva, analysts say, would have to deal with pressure from supporters whose political stripes range from communist to social democrat.
``If things go badly he won't get much cooperation [from politicians], and the radical left may push harder,'' says Bol'ivar Lamounier, a political scientist with the Sao Paulo Institute of Economic, Social, and Political Studies. He adds that radical supporters could push da Silva to take stronger action on issues such as land reform and income distribution, provoking a reaction from the right.
The candidates share some attributes. They are the only two serious young newcomers among the 21 candidates who ran in the first round. Political analysts say this shows that the voters, disgusted with the current government of President Jos'e Sarney, want change.
Mr. Sarney's shortcoming was his failure to tame inflation, which came to more than 171,000 percent over his five-year term and is expected to reach 50 percent this month. Sarney was unable to stand up to politicians and businessmen who benefit from profligate government spending, the main cause of inflation. Also during his term, Brazil's already huge gap between rich and poor widened even more. (See Brazil economic story, Page 8).
The two presidential candidates are the fruit of 21 years of political repression under a military government that gave up power in 1985.
Da Silva began organizing Sao Paulo factory workers in the late 1970s, outside of the government-controlled union framework. He led three major strikes, and the military put him in prison once. His grass-roots movement evolved into the Workers' Party, which last year won several key mayoral races and has a small congressional presence. The party also has strong ties to the progressive wing of the Roman Catholic Church, which organizes many poor communities in Brazil.