RIO DE JANEIRO — FOR the second time since the end of the 21-year military dictatorship in 1985, Brazilians will select a president by direct vote.
On Monday, the nation's 94.8 million voters - 65 million of whom have not finished primary school - will choose not only a president, but all 503 seats in the federal Chamber of Deputies, 54 of 81 seats in the Senate, governors of all 26 states plus the federal district, and thousands of state officials.
But it is the presidential race that has animated most voters, mainly because of the two leading candidates who couldn't come from more different backgrounds.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso is the son, grandson, and nephew of Army generals. He is considered an intellectual, a gourmet, and a wine connoisseur. He has written 24 books, speaks English, Spanish, and French, and has taught sociology at Stanford and the Sorbonne.
The gruff, bearded Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva is a grade school dropout, the son of a subsistence farmer and a former lathe operator. At age seven, he fled the impoverished northeast with his family and migrated to industrial Sao Paulo. He later spent years working on an automobile assembly line.
In 1975, Mr. Da Silva became the president of a Sao Paulo metalworkers union, led several major strikes for higher wages, and was removed from his position by military rulers, who weren't used to independent trade unionists. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison; the verdict was later overturned.
In 1989, he founded the Workers' Party, prompting the international media to call him the ``Latin American Lech Walesa,'' since both are Catholic, led grass-roots labor movements against dictatorial regimes, and became politicians.
In 1982, he ran for governor of Sao Paulo State, finishing fourth with only 10 percent of the vote. In 1987, he won a congressional seat and two years later nearly captured the presidency.
Despite their distinct backgrounds, both candidates share a historial bond: persecution by the military dictatorship.
Mr. Cardoso was a leftist academic who spent four years in political exile in Chile and France. When he returned in 1968, his political rights were suspended, and he was barred from teaching at any state university. His leftist credentials also earned him a place on a US immigration blacklist, according to a top aide of ex-President Jimmy Carter.
The two rivals also share a sincere desire to solve Brazil's social inequalities, though they espouse different methods. Cardoso represents free-market, conventional reform with a social bent. Da Silva, however, criticizes free-market policies as prejudicial to the poor and would likely insist on continued state control over much of the world's 10th largest economy.