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Brazil election: Lula's legacy set to propel Dilma Rousseff to victory

As voters go to polls for the Brazil election today, support from popular outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to propel candidate Dilma Rousseff to victory.

By Andrew DownieCorrespondent / October 3, 2010

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (r.), held up the arm of Brazil’s Workers’ Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff during a campaign rally in Campinas on Sept. 18. Brazil will hold general elections Oct. 3.

Andre Penner/AP

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Rio de Janeiro

Brazilians face an unfamiliar ballot today when they enter polling booths to elect a new president. For the first time since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, the name Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will not be on it.

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Mr. da Silva, known widely as "Lula," cannot run for a third consecutive term. Yet he remains the most important figure in this year's race. His 80 percent approval rating and enthusiastic support for Workers' Party (PT) candidate Dilma Rousseff nearly guarantees her victory.

"The PT made it a plebiscite: If you like Lula, then vote for it to continue under Dilma," says Carlos Manhanelli, president of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants. "She can tell her tailor to prepare her dress for the inauguration."

Polls show she will garner close to 50 percent of the vote, far ahead of her closest challenger, José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party. And she remains the clear favorite even amid a series of ethics scandals hitting the PT and one of her closest collaborators – underscoring the general approval of Lula's leadership.

Lackluster candidates

Simply put, Brazilians want Lula, whose charisma is unmatched by Mr. Serra or Dilma, as everyone in this informal nation knows the former energy minister. She is seen as authoritarian and harsh, and although she was one of the few Brazilians courageous enough to fight against the military dictatorship, she only joined PT in 2001 and has never run for office. In contrast, Serra has a long political career, serving as governor of Brazil's most populous state and then as health minister. But he is no more likable than his opponent.

Both candidates are essentially vying to show they can continue the prosperity found during Lula's eight-year term. Under his watch, inflation remained low and debt fell, while trade increased and bolstered foreign reserves to record levels. Confirmation of the country's newfound economic respect came from international ratings agencies, who last year awarded Brazil investment grade for the first time.

Lula stimulated spending, freed up credit, and injected money into previously moribund parts of the economy through a nationwide program that pays mothers to keep their kids in school and vaccinate their babies. More than 40 million people have benefited from the Bolsa Familia (or Family Aid) program, creating a trickle-up economic model that gave the poor disposable income for the first time.

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