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In a Brazil Split Between North and South, Presidential Candidates Run After Allies

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his run-off opponent social-democrat Geraldo Alckmin have begun a nerve breaking dispute to forge alliances and ensure victory next October 29, which is proving to be an open race.

In spite all the power wielded by the Brazilian executive it seems Alckmin has taken a few steps distance with the incorporation of two controversial populist leaders from the state of Rio do Janeiro, Anthony and Rosinha Garotinho, who manage a significant block in Brazilian politics, the evangelist churches vote, which on other circumstances have supported Lula.

But the incorporation will not be without a price since the Garotinhos have been involved in corruption scandals with federal funds and Mr Alckmin is playing the "ethics card".

In the first round Lula was two million votes short of the 50% plus one, and seven million votes ahead of his rival, out of a total 105 millions votes cast. At stake are the ten million votes from Lula’s Workers Party’s dissident presidential candidates Senator Heloí­sa Helena and Cristovam Buarque, plus 21 million abstentions.

Public opinion polls show that President Lula could recover 29% of Helena and 26% of Buarque’s votes but the rest would end with Mr. Alckmin.

Regarding abstentions Lula is frantically pushing for all voters to show up since usually comfortably leading candidates, such was the case of the Brazilian president (according to public opinion polls), experience the most significant absence from the voting booths.

In Brazil’s two main states, governors from Mr Alckmin’s party easily won the first round, José Serra in São Paulo and Aécio Neves in Minas Gerais, but their presidential candidate didn’t show the same muscle. Particularly in Minas Gerais, Neves garnered 70% of the vote but Alckmin only managed 40%. They have both promised to join the campaign trail next to candidate Alckmin.

But Lula also has his rising star: Jacques Wagner won the northeastern state of Bahia, which for decades has been a traditional stronghold of right wing populist politics. Wagner confirmed the Workers Party’s strategy for the run off: compare the results of President Lula’s first term with the eight years of former Social-democrat president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

October first election results show Brazil split almost in equal halves: north and northeast with more votes for Lula and center, south and southeast with a majority for Alckmin. The split apparently is closely linked to the performance of the economy in the different regions according to a survey from Folha de S. Paulo published this week.

In the state of Amazon where the economy boomed with the Manaus free trade area, Lula was supported by 78% of the electorate, while in Franca, Sao Paulo state, closely linked to the shoe wear industry and hit by Chinese imports, his support was only 25%.

"It will be the confrontation of two projects for Brazil. On the one side progressive forces with a democratic, popular and sovereign Brazil; on the other the conservative block which ruled Brazil in the nineties and the first years of this century", said the Workers Party in an official release of the coming October 29 run off.

Hopeful Alckmin is expected to concentrate his campaign in the north and northeast of the country where he only managed 34 and 26% of votes cast, mainly because of President Lula’s successful social plans which benefited millions of some of the poorest Brazilians.

But contrary to the first round when President Lula da Silva refused to show up for television debates, this time several are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks leading to October 29, beginning next Sunday.

Analysts believe that Lula’s absence from the last debate, 72 hours before polling day when a scandal allegedly involving the purchase by his campaign staff of data harmful for Alckmin candidates surfaced, backfired on him.

But on the positive side analysts also mentioned the fact that last Sunday’s results made President Lula and-crash and return to domestic politics, while Alckmin, a "gray character" ceased to be the "ghost candidate" and has chances.

In Caracas, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who faces re-election next December, adopted a sober attitude and cautioned about Brazilian elections’ lesson.

"If the other left wing parties had joined forces, Lula would have won but they played for the enemy and have put at risk Lula’s chances. That is why the unity of all the left is so important," underlined President Chavez.

Mercopress

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