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Lula Working to Shed Leftist Image

October 5, 2002

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SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s presidential front-runner, has worked to shed his leftist image and reassure the nation’s business that trouble won’t befall the continent’s biggest economy.

But critics of the former auto plant worker and union boss are wary.

``We need a commander in chief of the economy _ one who is capable of making his own decisions,″ said Stefan Salej, a former president of the National Confederation of Industries. ``My biggest fear is Lula’s lack of the competence and experience needed to govern Brazil, which will make him rely too much on advisers.″

Silva, for his part, is reaching out to the businesses that once shunned him. Already holding a commanding lead in the polls ahead of Sunday’s election, he picked a textile magnate as his running mate and has pledged to honor the government’s foreign debt.

And a growing number of businessmen have endorsed Silva’s candidacy.

``We understand that Lula is the only alternative capable of implementing a government program that will reduce social inequalities, spur economic growth, create jobs and strengthen the domestic market,″ said a manifesto recently signed by more than 600 businessmen.

That’s not to say the country’s business leaders aren’t worried.

While some business leaders have jumped on his bandwagon, many others still fear the prospect of having his Workers Party in power. They worry it would end eight years of free-market reforms implemented by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Also at stake is Brazil’s ability to reactivate its economy and attract the foreign capital needed to finance growth. Failure could lead the government to default on $100 billion it owes to foreign banks.

Meanwhile, the army is deploying 3,000 thousand soldiers on Rio streets and sending troops to eight other states as well to guarantee elections will be held without violence, the military said. The troops in Rio will join nearly 30,000 police who will be on duty.

The government is nervous after stores and schools across Rio closed on Monday, reportedly on orders from a drug lord.

Silva, widely known as Lula, has run for president three times before. In 1989, he lost to center-right populist Fernando Collor de Mello. Silva lost again in 1994 and 1998, both times to Cardoso.

Now, with Cardoso legally barred from running for a third term and many Brazilians disillusioned with free-market reforms, Silva’s chances have never looked better.

He leads in the polls with about 49 percent support compared with about 21 percent for the government-backed candidate, Jose Serra.

Silva can win outright and avoid a runoff only if he gets more than 50 percent. The two other candidates, Anthony Garotinho and Ciro Gomes, were polling at around 18 percent and 10 percent respectively.

``Lula may have shed a lot of his left wing past, but I don’t think the same can be said of many members of the Workers Party,″ said Salej.

If Silva wins, though, he’ll face a divided congress.

Silva’s leftist Workers Party will likely be a small minority in the new Congress. Also up for election are two-thirds of its 81 senators and all 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies.

A report by the IBEP political studies center in Brasilia indicated that the Workers Party and its current allies can expect to win 107 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Even with more backing of other leftist groups, Silva can’t expect to have more than 172 seats in the Chamber and a similar minority in the Senate, IBEP said. To govern, Silva will have to bargain with the right.

One group backing Silva is the Landless Rural Workers Movement, a leftist group that invades idle land to force the government’s hand on land reform. Silva has told ranchers he is the only candidate that can control the group.

The president of the industrial group Votorantim, Antonio Ermirio de Moraes, said Brazil needs $25 billion to $30 billion a year in foreign capital to close its balance of payments deficit.

``If the money does not come, the dollar will go through the roof, inflation will explode and we will be facing a very serious problem,″ Moraes was quoted as saying by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

A Silva win could also hamper plans by President Bush to implement the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a hemispheric bloc of 34 nations stretching from Alaska to Argentina. Silva has called it an ``annexation of Latin America to the United States.″

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