``He is a bit like a Brazilian Eisenhower -- respected, moderate, and good natured.'' That description of Tancredo Neves, who today is certain to become president-elect of the world's sixth most populous nation, is accurate as far as it goes. But even the foreign banker who made the comparison with Dwight Eisenhower admits there ``is a lot more to my friend Tancredo.''
In his 70s, Tancredo Neves is a survivor. He has held just about every type of public office in Brazil -- city, state, federal -- in a career that spans 50 years.
That career began as a prosecuting attorney in his home town of Sao Joao del Rey, a small town in Minas Gerais State, some 400 miles from Rio de Janeiro.
That was in 1934. Since then he was successively a state deputy; a federal assemblyman; justice minister under President Get'ulio Vargas; president of the Banco de Brasil; prime minister of Brazil during the eight-month parliamentary interregnum during the presidency of Joao Goulart; head of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), the opposition party during 20 years of military rule; and most recently governor of his home state of Minas Gerais.
He won that latter post in 1982 with the largest vote ever -- some 2.8 million -- an indication of his popularity.
That popularity is helping to sweep him into the presidency of Brazil in the indirect, Electoral College vote that was designed by the military to prevent just such an occurrence. By having the indirect vote, the generals expected to decide who would be their successor as they marched back to the barracks after 20 years of rule.
But that scenario came a cropper for a variety of reasons. First, the generals had a hard time deciding on who would succeed them. And then, the man they chose, Sao Paulo politician and businessman Paulo Salim Maluf, just didn't muster full party or public support.
It is obvious that Neves is the man of the hour here. Public opinion goes for him by more than 70 percent, some polls reaching 80 percent -- and so does the Electoral College, which is likely to give him at least two-thirds, maybe three-quarters of its 686 votes.
In many ways, Neves is the embodiment of Brazilian hopes and concerns. As a moderate, he accurately represents a people that has over the years rejected a variety of extremisms and is now glad to see the military extremism go.
Neves is not expected to take a back seat. He is an activist -- again a very Brazilian trait. He darts from meeting to meeting with the ease of a gazelle. He is also known as a fast driver who has taken friends on exciting trips through Brazil's countryside.
But some of these images belie his serious nature as a levelheaded, realistic politician.
``He is probably the most Brazilian Brazilian of the moment,'' comments Ulysses Guimaraes, coordinator of the Neves campaign. ``He is very active but also he has his quiet moments, liking to read. He is also very much a family man and Brazilians like that. They feel they can count on him.''
That levelheadedness, which also gave him a tag of being ``morally honest'' in Minas Gerais, probably kept him from losing political rights when the military came to power in 1964. Many Brazilian political leaders, including former presidents, lost their civil rights in that coup. Neves kept his and went on to form an opposition movementto the military. He did not, however, do anything in those years that would smack of being an opportunist. He didn't allow the military to escape his criticism.
He says he is not doing so now. He has had some harsh words to say about the years of military rule. But he has agreed that there should be no vendetta against the military once he takes office.
``This nasty era is behind us,'' one of his spokesman said over the weekend, ``and there is no reason in wallowing in it. There is too much to do.''
When he makes his way to Bras'ilia, after a planned March 15 inauguration, Neves will have much to do. He will not sit back satisfied at having reached the pinnacle of a political career.
His administration is likely to be an activist one -- aimed at resolving enormous problems like the $90 to $100 billion foreign debt, putting Brazilians back to work and ending double-digit joblessness, and finding solutions to the impoverishment of millions.
He will have opposition after an initial honeymoon, but for the moment the nation seems to be behind him. It is a rather heady feeling, he admits.
But he doesn't plan to hold onto the presidency as one whose election has gone to his head. Rather, he wants a constitutional convention in 1986 that would shorten his own and subsequent presidencies from six to four years.
Yet Neves is a politician. And he can be expected to use the tools of the politician to strengthen democratic institutions, to bridge the rich-poor gap, and to move Brazil into a stronger political position in the West.