Left-Winger Lula Elected President of Brazil
Published on Monday, October 28, 2002 by Agence France Presse
Left-Winger Lula Elected President of Brazil
 

Leftist former union chief Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected Brazil's president by a landslide, in a historic vote that gave Latin America's biggest country its first working class leader.

The head of the Workers Party (PT) had 61.46 percent of valid votes, election authorities said Monday with 90 percent of ballots for the second round runoff counted.

Jose Serra of the ruling Brazilian Social Democratic Party, had 38.5 percent and conceded defeat before the count was finished.

US President George W. Bush was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Lula and raucous street celebrations marked the triumph by the 57-year-old, who rode to victory on widespread discontent over Brazil's social divide.

Attention in the United States and other countries will now be focused on whether Lula can keep promises to maintain fiscal discipline.

The election came at the height of a new financial crisis, which saw the real, the Brazilian currency, lose 40 percent of its value this year and prompted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to offer a 30 billion dollar rescue package.

The crisis was widely blamed on negative investor reaction to the idea that the ex-factory worker with little formal education would becomed president of Brazil.

But the financial sector appeared to have come to terms with the idea after the October 6 first round, which Lula dominated.

Lula -- widely regarded as honest in a country plagued by corruption -- has recently moved closer to the political center, reached out to the business community, and pledged to aim for a budget surplus while carrying out wide-ranging social reforms.

Investors were keenly awaiting indications as to who Lula's key advisors will be.

Aides have said a 55-strong transitional team would include technocrats from outside the PT and investors hope to see players close to the financial market among them.

The team will work alongside the current administration until President Fernando Enrique Cardoso hands over on January 1, and was expected to focus primarily on the 2003 budget and November negotiations with the IMF.

Lula was expected to present the team on Tuesday, though it was not clear when he would announce his future finance minister and central bank chief.

The next president faces a formidable challenge sticking to the austerity demanded by the IMF, while responding to a clamour for social change in a country where 54 million people live in poverty and where crime is endemic.

The US president announced through a spokesman that he "looks forward to working productively with Brazil."

But asked whether the leftist leader would spur Latin America's troubled largest economy to recovery, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was cautious, saying only: "We'll see ultimately what steps that he takes."

Lula picked up widespread all-class support in his home country. "We've had enough of economists and professors," said banker Henrique Denofrio, 33, in reference to Cardoso's administration.

"Now we are voting for a metal worker who will bring about social change," said Denofrio, as he cast his ballot in Sao Paulo, the country's financial and industrial megalopolis.

"This is a historic day," said the outgoing president, adding that the peaceful voting was a clear reflection of democracy in Brazil, which was ruled by a military regime from 1964 to 1985.

As polling concluded, flag-waving crowds took to the streets of Sao Paulo to celebrate Lula's victory.

Across the country of 170 million, from the steamy jungles of the Amazon to the beach resorts of the south, voters used electronic voting machines, powered by car batteries or generators in remote areas.

Voters also cast ballots for governors in 14 states where gubernatorial elections were not decided in the first round.

Copyright 2002 AFP

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