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Brazilians likely to return incumbent to office

Sun., Oct. 1, 2006, midnight

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – More than 125 million Brazilian voters are set to choose a new government today and polls show they want more of the same, despite more than a year’s worth of political scandals.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appears likely to win re-election with a majority of the vote, avoiding a runoff with the second-place finisher. Half of the country’s 20 governors seeking re-election also appear headed for immediate victory, with six expected to go to runoffs.

For Valukyria Ribeiro, a cosmetics saleswoman from the central Brazilian town of Santa Maria, four more years of the same would be welcome. Many of her friends and family have seen their incomes rise, with the help of poverty aid from the federal government. Business in her dry, little town has also been improving.

“Really, Lula is governing for the people,” Ribeiro said. “A lot of people have seen their lives improve.”

The likely result is a remarkable one for a president who a year ago seemed on the verge of resignation when a bribes-for-votes scandal engulfed his party and government. If Lula wins, either outright or in a runoff, many believe he’ll be the kingmaker when the next president is selected in 2010; under Brazilian law, Lula cannot seek a third term.

“Lula has a popular leadership that is unique in Brazil, independent of political party,” said Newton Cardoso, the former governor of Minas Gerais and a Lula ally. “He will be a political force for the next 20 years.”

Still, many think the scandals have weakened Lula and his Workers’ Party enough that he’ll be unable to tackle some key issues and will be forced to share power.

Anticorruption measures and changes to the country’s tax system, which eats up 40 percent of the gross domestic product, won’t go anywhere, many analysts said.

One thing is certain: The president is expected to expand social aid programs that have helped him win the support of millions of poor Brazilians. Such measures, along with increases in the minimum wage and pensions, benefit nearly 60 million people, or about a third of the country.


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