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Leftist Candidate Takes a Firm Lead

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Leftist Candidate Takes a Firm Lead in Brazil's Election

By LARRY ROHTER

RIO DE JANEIRO, Monday, Oct. 7 — Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers' Party surged to an emphatic lead in Brazil's presidential election Sunday. But with returns still pouring in early today, it appeared increasingly likely he would be unable to obtain the majority he needs to avoid a runoff in three weeks.

With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. da Silva, 56, a former factory worker and union leader, had just under 47 percent of the vote. José Serra, of the incumbent centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party, was running a distant second, with just less than 24 percent of the vote, while two other candidates — Anthony Garotinho and Ciro Gomes — together accounted for 29 percent.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls that were broadcast on television Sunday night however indicated that the outcome of the balloting was still too close to call. The Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion, the country's leading polling organization, said Mr. da Silva had the support of 49 percent of voters it questioned around the country, but it acknowledged that the margin of error of 1 percentage point could put him over the top.

Those results duplicated the uncertainty registered by the two final opinion polls, published in newspapers Sunday morning, that disagreed as to the likely result of the vote. One showed Mr. da Silva barely gaining the majority he needs to avoid what would be a bruising second round, while the other showed him just short of that goal, with the support of 48 percent of voters.

"This is what democracy is all about," Norma de Almeida Gomes, a 44-year-old schoolteacher here, said exultantly Sunday morning as she emerged from a polling place in a middle-class neighborhood. "I'll stay up all night if I have to, but I'm not going to sleep until I know if this is all over or not."

Mr. da Silva had never won more than a quarter of the first-round vote in three previous attempts at the presidency. Though he forced a runoff in his first try, in 1989, voters in the past have always been suspicious of his party's socialist platform and questioned his qualifications for office. For this campaign, however, Mr. da Silva revamped both his image and his program. He backed away from earlier threats to repudiate Brazil's foreign debt and to break with international lending organizations like the International Monetary Fund, emphasizing instead measures that would allow Latin America's largest country to export more and therefore generate more jobs and growth.

Mr. Serra, in contrast, as the candidate of the multiparty coalition that has governed this nation of 175 million for nearly eight years, has had to bear the burden of popular dissatisfaction with rising unemployment and a stalled economy. He has also been seriously weakened by disarray within the government camp and by and his own lack of charisma compared to Mr. da Silva.

"Lula has learned from his errors and grown with time, and I think he is finally mature enough to be our president and bring about the change that we need," Fábio Barcellos, a 32-year-old economist, said after casting his ballot for Mr. da Silva on Sunday. "The people running this country certainly haven't been able to make the economy grow, but maybe he can."

Investors, however, have left no doubt that they would prefer Mr. Serra, a former minister of planning, senator and congressman. As Mr. da Silva has risen in the polls this year, the national currency, the real, has fallen sharply against the dollar, driven by worries about Brazil's growing public debt and concerns that increased spending under a Workers' Party government would cause renewed inflation.

On their way to the beach here Sunday after casting their ballots, several middle-aged professionals discussed their choices and Brazil's prospects. Euclides Oliveira, a 54-year-old lawyer, said he had voted for Mr. da Silva for the first time because he was convinced the country needed to set a new course.

"It is good for democracy to have different parties alternate in power," he said. "This is not Venezuela, and Lula is not Hugo Chávez. He has been preparing for this job for 20 years and is the best man for the job."

"You must be kidding," retorted his friend José Carvalho, a 58-year-old physician, who said he voted for Mr. Serra because of his proven administrative skills. "Lula has never run anything, not even his own kitchen. So how is he ever going to manage a country as big and as complicated as this one?"

Brazil, which is larger than the continental United States, is relying a totally computerized voting system for the first time, and some initial glitches led to delays in tallying the vote. About 400,000 electronic voting machines, consisting of a small screen and keypad, were sent to polling places around the country, and the national electoral commission estimated it would have a nearly complete count within 12 hours of the close of polling.

The presidential vote Sunday was the fourth since 21 years of authoritarian military rule ended in 1985. In addition to choosing their head of state for the next four years, the country's 115 million voters were also electing 54 members, or two-thirds, of the Senate and all 513 members of the lower house of Congress.

Despite his own strong performance, Mr. da Silva was proving not to have particularly long coattails. Projections indicated that his party was likely to win fewer than one quarter of the seats in Congress and that the current four-party governing coalition would continue to control the legislative branch.

Mr. da Silva voted Sunday morning at a school in São Bernardo do Campo, an industrial suburb of São Paulo where he began his public career 27 years ago as a leader of the local metalworkers union. Accompanied by his wife and the Workers' Party candidate for governor of São Paulo, he kissed a Brazilian flag handed him by a former colleague who told him, "The future of the country is in your hands."

Mr. da Silva's backers made it clear they hoped to avoid a second round, which would require them to bargain with the two left-wing candidates who finished behind Mr. Serra and to confront the government's considerable powers of patronage. Mr. Serra, in contrast, was delighted at the prospect of a confrontation.

"In the second round we're going to have a real debate, with more substance and less reliance on advertisements," he predicted before casting his vote Sunday. "It's one thing to make campaign speeches, but when you're in government, it's something else altogether."

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