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Brazil Voters Chart Steady Course

Prepared by: Rebecca Bloom, and Stephanie Hanson
Updated: October 30, 2006

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Incumbent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva surged to victory in Sunday's runoff presidential election with 61 percent of the vote, securing a firm mandate (NYT) for his second term and vanquishing the corruption charges that had dogged his candidacy. Lula's campaign against former Sao Paolo state governor Geraldo Alckmin (Word doc) was marred by a series of corruption scandals, including a mid-September incident in which police caught aides in Lula’s Workers’ Party trying to buy a dossier to be used to smear an opposition candidate (CBC) in the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy.

The September scandal gave Alckmin a second chance to appeal to the voters of Brazil and convince them to make the switch from Lula, but he faced an uphill battle in part due to a dull and stern public personality, which paled in comparison (IHT) to Lula’s flamboyance. Alckmin came out with guns blazing in the third televised presidential debate, pounding Lula on the corruption issue, while also getting in a few jabs on his economic policies, which he claimed are preventing Brazil’s economy—which grew just 2 percent this year—from growing (AP).

But Lula, Brazil’s first president from the working class, was carried to victory by those who benefited from the same economic policies Alckmin criticized. Lula's flagship social program, the Bolsa Familia (Family Fund) Initiative, provides a stipend to parents who keep their children in school, reaching the poorest quarter of Brazil’s population. The Bolsa Familia has contributed to the largest decrease in inequality in Brazil in thirty years, said Maria Herminia Tavares de Almeida in a Wilson Center presentation. The Economist reports he is backed by 57% of the voters who earn up to 700 reais (about $320 dollars) a month. Brazil’s middle class has not experienced the quality-of-life improvements that the lower class has, and some fear a rift is growing (LAT) between Brazil's poor north and its comparatively wealthy south.

In Lula's second term, he has promised to double economic growth and cut spending (Bloomberg). An issue brief (PDF) from the Center for Economic and Policy Research states that GDP per capita in Brazil grew a measly 3.5 percent a year for 2000-2005, and the Economist Intelligence Unit reports that 2006 growth is not expected to exceed 3.1 percent. With such sluggish economic growth, it will be difficult to accomplish much in the way of significant poverty reduction or security reform, Lula’s social programs notwithstanding.

Security reform is also likely to be a dominant issue in Lula's second term. For the past six months, the residents of Sao Paolo, the most populous city in the Southern Hemisphere, have experienced a wave of attacks by the First Capital Command (PCC), an organized crime network controlled from within Sao Paolo’s jails, and citizens blame politicians (BBC) for not doing enough to protect them. According to Luis Bitencourt, professor at the National Defense University, urban crime persists in Brazil due to a lack of political pressure for reform. He notes that Lula’s Workers’ Party established an institute that proposed promising initiatives, but that the administration has implemented none of the recommendations (PDF).

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