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Corruption Claims Cloud Brazil's Presidential Election

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Corruption Claims Cloud Brazil's Presidential Election

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Corruption Claims Cloud Brazil's Presidential Election

Corruption Claims Cloud Brazil's Presidential Election

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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva clings to a lead that would give him an outright victory in the general election Sunday. But the latest in a series of corruption scandals has Lula's main rival declaring "there'll be a second round."

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's reelection chances may be threatened by more scandal. Polls show President Lula clinging to a lead that could give him an outright victory in Sunday's general election. But the opposition is counting on the latest scandal to force a second round of voting. Dossier-gate alleges that Lula's Workers' Party plotted to incriminate opposition candidates in wrongdoing.

But as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Rio de Janeiro, many voters seem unperturbed by Brazil's string of scandals.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Two weeks ago, federal police nabbed operatives of Lula's Workers' Party with nearly $800,000 in cash. Police say they planned to purchase a dossier - linking the opposition to a scheme that used inflated invoices to purchase state ambulances. Separately, more than 100 members of Congress have been implicated in the ambulance scam, otherwise known as the bloodsucking scandal.

Geraldo Alckmin, Lula's main rival, says the bungled attempt to smear him with the affair makes the presidential race more competitive.

Mr. GERALDO ALCKMIN: (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: There is going to be a second round of voting, Alckmin insists. There is corrosion in the president's creditability. Who still believes in Lula? He says, he knows nothing of a long list of scandals, Alckmin says.

Lula said, had he known about the schemes to pay top-dollar for the dirt on the opposition, he would've stopped it. He also claimed innocence when a multi-tentacle of fear threatened to derail his presidency last year. What began as corruption in the post office, burgeoned into a secret fundraising scheme that included payoffs to members of Congress in return for their vote.

In a television interview this week, Lula said he has handled the litany of scandals lapping at his door and claiming his top lieutenants, the way his mother cleaned house.

President LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA (Brazil): (Through translator) My mother, who was poor, would make me and my brother lift up the sofa so she could clean the dirt that no one saw - just like my government - we expose the dirt that had been pushed under the rug and we never stopped an investigation. That's what a Democratic government does.

MCCARTHY: Lula's homey defense goes down well with his traditional base - the country's 38 million, poorest citizens. Alberto Alvej(ph) works at a kiosk selling newspapers. And says Lula deserves credit for allowing federal police to even investigate corruption. He also believes Lula was betrayed by greedy associates.

Mr. ALBERTO ALVEJ (Citizen, Brazil): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: I think Lula gave the best example of all, he says. You marry someone and you think you know them. And a year later, you find out your wife is someone else. And who does she betray you with - your best friend.

Political scientist Ignacio Cano(ph) says Lula has used his humble origins to good effect in times of trouble.

Mr. IGNACIO CANO (Political Scientist): So when there is a mistake and then he comes out and says, I've been betrayed, and people believe him - much more than they would believe anybody with a PhD.

MCCARTHY: But artist Eloisa Gale(ph) is among those who have grown disillusioned with Lula. She displayed her paintings at a reception this week -vowing to sell them all and leave the country.

Ms. ELOISA GALE (Artist): (Through translator) This is my last exhibition. It's not possible to live here anymore - to see, to feel. Lula has been hypocritical and small. He's a vulgar imposter.

MCCARTHY: But polls show that many Brazilians shrug off the scandals. Focusing instead on the benefits of low inflation, and if they are poor, the subsidies that have kept them afloat.

Commentator Domicio Proensa(ph), however, warns that all the corruption is beginning to limit the voters options.

Mr. DOMICIO PROENSA (Commentator): People are starting to lose faith that under the current system they can't run the rascals out. All they can do is change rascals. It's never good. It's never good.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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