Overcoming a series of corruption and political scandals that tarred his image and undermined his credibility, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil won a landslide re-election victory in a runoff vote.
Da Silva, a former factory worker and labor union leader running as the candidate of the left-wing Workers Party, had 60.8 percent of the vote on Sunday. The percentage of the vote going to his opponent, Geraldo Alckmin of the center-left Brazilian Social Democratic Party, dropped in comparison with the 41.6 percent he won in the first round of balloting on Oct. 1, when da Silva fell just short of the majority he needed to win outright.
“This is an extraordinary result, one that gives him a legitimacy that all the accusations had perhaps broken,” said Jairo Nicolau, a television commentator and political science professor at the Candido Mendes University here, referring to da Silva. “It’s one thing to win a narrow victory and something else altogether to register this level of support after all that has happened.”
Wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed “The victory is Brazil’s,” da Silva spoke to supporters at a hotel in São Paulo on Sunday night, saying that “Brazil is living a magical moment” and expressing his gratitude to voters for their faith in him. “The people knew how to distinguish between what was true and what wasn’t,” he said before adding that he had “learned a lot” in power and promising to make a greater effort to combat corruption.
Da Silva took office in January 2003, promising a new era of social justice and clean government in this nation of 185 million people, the world’s fourth- largest democracy. But his luster began to fade a year later, when an aide was caught on film soliciting campaign donations from numbers-game kingpins here.
Then, in May of last year, a much larger scandal erupted. Though it was initially limited to corruption in government contracts, investigations by congressional committees and by the news media soon established the existence of an illegal multimillion-dollar slush fund used to finance da Silva’s 2002 campaign and to pay off legislators from small political parties to support his government.
The metastasizing scandals forced the resignation of da Silva’s chief of staff and his minister of finance, as well as the president, treasurer and secretary general of the party da Silva founded in 1980 and has led ever since. As a result, opinion polls taken late last year consistently indicated that the president would be defeated if he ran for re- election. To make matters worse, the police last month apprehended operatives of da Silva’s party as they were about to pay $792,000 in cash for a dossier they apparently thought would damage Alckmin’s chances. Though that weakened da Silva in the first round of balloting, he benefited from an improved economy and a welfare program that delivers a monthly stipend of about $45 to nearly 12 million poor families.
“Lula’s turnaround is based mostly on the economy,” said Alberto Carlos Almeida, a political scientist. “That, combined with the social programs, gives the electorate the impression that he is really taking care of the poor. There is the appearance of stability, and so people want continuity.”
After being chastised by the first round vote on Oct. 1, da Silva adopted a new campaign slogan: “Don’t trade the sure thing for the dubious.” That clearly resonated with the working-class voters who have provided his electoral base.
“Lula cares about the poor, and that’s what matters to me, more than all this talk about corruption, which we’ve always had,” Jane Cunha, a 56-year-old maid, said at a polling place here Sunday morning. “I earn the minimum wage, and thanks to him, my salary has gone up $20 a month and the price of food has gone down enough that I’m eating a lot more meat than in the past.”
Da Silva has governed on the right, as least as regards his conservative economic policy. He has run up the kind of budget surpluses that delight Wall Street and the International Monetary Fund.
But in recent weeks, he has “campaigned on the left,” in the words of Marco Aurelio Garcia, the government’s national security adviser. A loan repayment to the IMF, for example, was repackaged as da Silva’s giving the organization its walking papers and telling it to keep its nose out of Brazil’s affairs.
In addition, da Silva repeatedly accused Alckmin of planning to dismantle social welfare programs.
As is often the case, the candidates’ personalities played a part in voters’ calculations. Da Silva never passed up an opportunity to refer to his humble origins, while Alckmin, a physician, proved unable to shake his image as a bland and somewhat pedantic son of the middle class. International Herald Tribune