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Brazil Elections: Lula and Alckmin Scramble for New Allies

With the framework of what seems to have become a divided country, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his social-democrat opponent Geraldo Alckmin have begun preparing for the October 29 runoff.

According to official results from Brazil’s Electoral Tribunal, Lula Silva garnered 48.61% of the vote and former São Paulo governor Alckmin a surprising 41.64%.

Way behind were ranked Senator Heloí­sa Helena Lima with 6.85% and Cristovam Buarque with 2.65%, both dissidents from the Workers Party who claim President Lula has embraced conservative, liberal economic policies, contrary to what he promised when elected in 2002.

Their recommendations to followers in the runoff might be crucial for both candidates. Abstention was 16.75%; annulled votes 5.68% and void, 2.73%.

The election results show a divided Brazil according to the local press: President Lula won by a landslide in the north and northeast, the poorest areas of the country and where apparently the social programs have had an impact, while Mr. Alckmin was a comfortable winner in the south, southeast and mid-west, the richest and most industrialized regions.

Mr. Alckmin is expected to keep banging with the need for ethics in politics following all the scandals that have plagued the ruling party and Mr. Lula is forecasted to distance himself as much as possible from the Workers Party.

Public opinion polls from before last Sunday’s vote indicated that President Lula would be leading the runoff contest with 49% of vote intentions and Alckmin with 44%. However conditions have changed and the validity of the poll is questioned.

Final results show President Lula won in 16 States and Alckmin in 11. Lula’s advantage concentrated in the Northern and Northeasters States, his long standing strongholds, and Alckmin most convincing victories were located in the São Paulo state and southeaster and midwestern states.

A first assessment suggests that Lula fared better in states that did better economically during his term in power, whereas Alckmin enjoyed more popularity in the states hit the worst by the Brazilian currency appreciation (agricultural states, such as midwestern and southern states) and São Paulo, his political stronghold.

When considering Alckmin’s recent upward vote intentions trend, the contest starts with no clear favorite. In the fight for votes, Minas Gerais State (the second largest voting State) seems key: the State’s Governor Aecio Neves (PSDB), re-elected with 77% of valid votes, has the potential to transfer more of his prestige to Alckmin, who obtained 45% of the valid votes in that State. Rio de Janeiro State (the third largest voting State) seems also up for grabs as Lula obtained 48% of valid votes and Alckmin 28%.

However, there is a large room for the unpredictable: a new wave of riots in São Paulo state could badly damage Alckmin’s popularity, and an escalation of the recent electoral scandal could undermine Lula’s image further.

Seventeen states have chosen their governors in the first round. PMDB, PSDB and PT have won in 4 States each. Minas Gerais and São Paulo, the two most important States of the country, continued in the hands of the PSDB with two impressive victories in the first round.

Aecio Neves (Minas Gerais) and José Serra (São Paulo) emerged as the two most important regional leaders and should start a dispute for the PSDB’s presidential candidacy for 2010 soon after the election. PT obtained a convincing victory in Bahia State, the most important State ever conquered by the party.

Congressional results indicate that in the Senate in a universe of 81 seats, the PSDB/PFL alliance has totaled 33 seats, PMDB 15 seats and PT 11. In light of that, the PSDB/PFL should have the chance to nominate the speaker of the house. If so, they would control the agenda in the House.

Regarding the Lower House although no precise numbers are available yet, estimates suggest that the PMDB should be the largest party there, followed by PT, PFL and PSDB. The PT has fared better than expected; however, PFL and PSDB may have their participation in the House increased.

A first assessment shows that the Congressional composition seems friendlier to an eventual Alckmin’s victory. In the Lower House, a potential coalition between PSDB/PFL and PMDB would give him a good share of the House. A situation that looks even more comfortable in the Upper House.

The same cannot be said about an eventual victory of Lula. A possible coalition between PT and PMDB would fall shorter of a majority in both Houses, which would pose obstacles to Lula’s agenda.

Mercopress

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