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Brazil Presidential Election Goes to Runoff

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Brazil Presidential Election Goes to Runoff

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Brazil Presidential Election Goes to Runoff

Brazil Presidential Election Goes to Runoff

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In a stunning setback, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was denied re-election Sunday. Lula finished first in the national ballot, receiving 48 percent of the vote. But that was shy of the 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a runoff. Now he'll face the second-place challenger, a former Sao Paulo governor.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Some surprises in Brazil's presidential politics. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was denied re-election Sunday. Lula finished first in the national ballot, receiving 48 percent of the vote. But that was shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. He'll face his second-place challenger, a former Sao Paulo governor, who ran better than expected. Lula seemed assured of coasting to a first round victory until his Workers Party was caught two weeks ago in an alleged plot to discredit the opposition with dirty tricks.

From Rio de Janeiro, NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.

JULIE MCCARTHY: What started out as a sleepy campaign became overnight a race that could change the direction South America's biggest country has been moving in under Lula's leadership the past four years.

His opponent, Geraldo Alckmin, an uninspired campaigner, surged in the polls after revelations that Lula's campaign staff paid for damaging information about Alckmin.

Newspapers ran front-page photos over the weekend showing piles of money meant to buy the information. Alckmin, a former Sao Paolo governor, won 41 percent of the vote yesterday - far more than he had scored in any previous poll.

Brasilia-based political scientist David Fleischer says the race is now Lula's to lose and he could.

Professor DAVID FLEISCHER (Political Scientist): The danger exists because Alckmin comes out of the first round on the rise. And Lula comes out of the first round on a decline. This is what George Bush, Sr. used to call the big M - momentum.

The second round is going to be very, very different than the first round and is not going to be very civilized. There's going to be a lot of harsh political give and take and a lot of mud being slung around.

MCCARTHY: Lula followed the adage, when you win say little, when you lose say less, and left the talking to his minister of political coordination. Tarso Genro called it a spectacular election in which Lula nearly won.

Mr. TARSO GENRO (Minister of Political Coordination): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: We had almost half the votes of the country and we certainly had the votes in the poorest parts. And we know we've been doing a lot for the poor. And we're prepared to win in the runoff, he said.

Lula indicated he is now willing to participate in debates. His failure to appear in the final, widely viewed debate was heavily criticized. Nelly Celis(ph), a retired civil judge, stood outside a bar in Copacabana after voting for Lula.

She said the debate would have been nothing but an ad hominem attack on Lula and she expressed the feeling of many voters when she talked of the importance of having a working-class president.

Ms. NELLY CELIS (Retired Judge): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Lula took over an intellectual government that did nothing, she says. But Lula rose to office a poor man who lived the basic problems of the poor - hunger and illiteracy. And in four years, she says, you can't fix everything.

Runner-up Geraldo Alckmin struggled throughout the campaign to ignite excitement. Few had heard of him outside Sao Paolo, but the elated candidate told reporters last night that had changed.

Mr. GERALDO ALCKMIN (Presidential Candidate, Brazil): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: I received an enormous vote of confidence from all over Brazil. And I want to make clear, we'll sweat in our shirts to show how deserve an even bigger vote of confidence, Alckmin said, adding, we'll make a clean campaign and we'll have an honest government.

Flavio Schekter(ph) voted for Alckmin and said Lula had manipulated the poor and run a corrupt government. Lula swept to power four years ago on a platform of social justice and ethics, but his government has had its share of scandals, including last year's multimillion-dollar scheme to buy votes in Congress. Schekter says Lula follows what Brazilians call Gerson's Law.

Mr. FLAVIO SCHEKTER (Alckmin Supporter): You have to take advantage in everything you do. So you don't respect the other. You have to take advantage.

MCCARTHY: But Lula's supporters, such as Paolo Cesar Augusto(ph), are inclined to critique Brazil's corruption through a long lens.

Mr. PAOLO CESAR AUGUSTO (Supporter of Lula): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Corruption, he says, has been generation after generation. I think we should give Lula another chance.

The second round of the presidential election is Oct. 29th.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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