January 19, 2007 / 8:19 AM / 11 years ago

Brazil's Lula wins second term with landslide

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a landslide victory in a run-off election on Sunday, shrugging off a series of corruption scandals and emerging again as the champion of Brazil’s poor and workers.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holds the national flag from his apartment in his hometown city of Sao Bernardo do Campo, October 29, 2006. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Brazil’s electoral court proclaimed Lula the winner over his rival Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party just a few hours after polls closed.

With 91 percent of the ballots counted, Lula had 60.54 percent against 39.46 percent for Alckmin.

About 125 million Brazilians cast ballots across the world’s fourth-largest democracy, from hamlets in the Amazon rainforest to the concrete jungle and tough slums of the big cities.

Lula, 61, already spoke like a winner when he turned up to vote in the factory town of Sao Bernardo do Campo, where he began in politics as a union leader opposing a military dictatorship. He promised to open a dialogue with the opposition.

“We are going to sew up all the alliances needed so people can be calm and we can approve all the projects that Brazil needs,” he told reporters.

Lula fell shy of an absolute majority in an October 1 vote against a wider field after an attempted smear campaign by his Workers’ Party against opposition candidates backfired.

Support from the lower classes, who have benefited from more jobs as well as welfare programs during his four-year term, is the key to Lula’s comeback.

Supporters of Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate at the Martin Jones Square in Rio de Janeiro October 29, 2006. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

“Lula is not indebted to the rich. He owes his success to the common Brazilian,” said photographer Euler Peixoto, 48, who voted in a middle-class district of the business capital Sao Paulo. “I want someone like that as my president.”

Scandals over vote-buying and bribery in the past few years had threatened to torpedo Lula’s political career, and they still weighed on many minds, especially among the rich and better-educated Brazilians.

But voters canvassed by Reuters reporters said violent crime, education and heath costs were all vital issues.

“Here, violence is the biggest problem,” said Lourdes Oliveira, a 34-year-old nurse in the Rocinha shantytown, or favela, in Rio de Janeiro.

“I believe Lula when he says only education can take youngsters away from the streets and from drug trafficking.”

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, candidate for re-election, greets supporters during a campaign rally in his hometown city of Sao Bernardo do Campo, October 28, 2006. Lula and Geraldo Alckmin will face off in the second round runoff election on October 29. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

COULD EMERGE STRONGER

Lula has won plaudits for stabilizing the economy of Latin America’s largest country but the growth needed to overcome its social inequalities and to maintain its challenge to emerging market rivals India and China is still elusive.

Cabinet minister Tarso Genro told Reuters on Sunday Lula would set a growth target of at least 5 percent next year.

Several analysts said Lula a strong mandate from the second round victory could help him to forge a coalition to push through business-friendly reforms.

An important opposition figure, Minas Gerais state governor Aecio Neves of the PSDB said he was ready to work with the president to come up with an agenda.

“There is a time for elections and a time to build. From tomorrow, my eyes will be on the future of this country,” Neves said.

In campaigning, Lula labeled Alckmin, 54, as a heartless cost-cutter who would slash welfare programs and sell off strategic state enterprises. Alckmin, a stiff, managerial type, attacked Lula over ethics and corruption.

But both candidates stuck to the same conservative economic policies that have made Brazil a favorite on Wall Street in recent years, unlike the widely differing visions that have marked many elections in Latin America this year.

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