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Brazil Leader Likely Headed for 2nd Term

September 30, 2006

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ Brazilians were poised to re-elect their first working-class president on Sunday, a poor farmer’s son who became a radical union leader and has governed as a centrist, stunning the world by stabilizing Brazil’s economy and bringing millions out of poverty without raising taxes.

But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been battered by corruption allegations against his party that are almost certain to haunt him through a second four-year term. Accusations of political dirty tricks and illegal campaign spending forced him to fire his campaign manager days before the election. Federal arrest warrants are in effect for five of his party members and a longtime aide.

They have not hurt the man known to all as Lula in the polls, which show him likely to win 59 percent of the vote _ enough for an outright victory without a runoff.

Silva had no weekend campaign events planned before he votes Sunday in the Sao Paulo suburb where he gained fame leading strikes against Brazil’s dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.

Media coverage, meanwhile, shifted to fears that all 155 people may have died aboard a passenger jet that crashed Friday in the Amazon jungle. Rescuers were trying to reach the remote site Saturday.

For the United States, Silva’s anticipated re-election was a mixed blessing.

He proclaims himself a friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and helped sink the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas in a protest over lavish U.S. farm subsidies. At the U.N. General Assembly last month, Silva blasted the U.S.-led Iraq war, saying the money should be used to alleviate global poverty.

But unlike Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who used the assembly podium to call President Bush ``the devil,″ Silva refrained from mentioning the United States or Bush by name.

Washington also won’t mind another four years of Silva because he is widely seen as a soothing influence on a continent where far-left sentiment is on the rise, said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

``If Lula is a leftist, he is a leftist Washington can happily live with and even bolster,″ Shifter said.

On his first full day in office in January 2003, Silva had breakfast with Chavez and dinner with Castro, creating what Chavez termed the ``axis of good″ _ a play on Bush’s reference to North Korea, Iran and prewar Iraq as the ``axis of evil.″

Others feared Latin America’s largest, most populous country was tipping into the far-left camp.

But Silva has since managed to distance himself sufficiently from the two to allay fears of radical change. His campaign has positioned him in the center against Geraldo Alckmin on his right _ a business-friendly former Sao Paulo governor with poll numbers in the low 30s _ and far-left candidate Sen. Heloisa Helena, who is expected to get less than 10 percent.

Alckmin attacked Silva over the corruption scandal in a last-minute Rio de Janeiro campaign stop Saturday, saying voters should choose him to rid Brazil of ``this plague of corruption, and to have a government that works.″

Six members of Silva’s Workers’ Party, including an old friend who ran his personal security detail, face federal arrest warrants for their alleged roles in an effort to buy damaging information about political opponents.

Silva has not been directly implicated, but allegations are swirling that the Workers’ Party tried to pay $770,000 for a dossier linking Sao Paulo gubernatorial candidate Jose Serra to graft when he was health minister between 1998 and 2002.

Despite the scandal, Silva’s opponents have not made much headway because in the four years since he was elected in a landslide, life has certainly improved for the majority _ more jobs, lower inflation and bigger benefits for the poor.

Silva’s campaign theme _ that he has proven he can reduce poverty _ resonates from the urban slums of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to Brazil’s impoverished northeast, where Silva was born.

``Zero Hunger,″ his expanded food stamp-like program, guarantees about $30 a month to virtually all poor families provided they vaccinate their children and keep them in school. It distributes $325 million a month to about a quarter of Brazil’s 187 million people.

``He has done an excellent job in controlling inflation and improving the lives of the poor,″ said Anselmo de Souza, a 63-year-old retired metal worker in the Sao Paulo suburb where Silva rose through the union ranks. ``I think the accusations that he is corrupt are lies made up by his enemies.″

Alckmin says Silva has stifled growth with the high interest rates he deployed against inflation, and he uses the scandal to taunt the president’s Workers’ Party for having claimed to be the most ethical in Brazilian history.

Marisela dos Santos voted for Silva four years ago and feels betrayed.

``He may have improved the lives of the poor and stabilized the economy but his government is as infected with corruption as all the others,″ said the 32-year-old dental assistant. But she doubted anyone else would do better and remained undecided about her vote.

Silva’s second-term priorities include reforming the tax and labor rules. But he’ll likely be in defensive mode for months as election authorities investigate whether he had a role in the dirty tricks scandal and a center-right coalition led by Alckmin’s party could end up controlling the Senate, where 27 of 81 seats are being contested.

Brazilians also are electing all 513 deputies in the House and all of their state governors.

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