August 9, 2006

Brazil’s Lula moves closer to election victory

By Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva looks increasingly hard to beat in Brazil's October 1
election after extending his lead over main rival Geraldo
Alckmin, analysts said on Wednesday.

Two polls released on Tuesday showed Lula would defeat
Alckmin by a 23 percent and 28 percent margin. The president
had a 16-point lead over the former Sao Paulo state governor
last month. The new data also showed Lula would win an absolute
majority and avoid a run-off vote.

"The race is almost over, it will be very hard for Alckmin
to turn this around," said Ricardo Ribeiro, political analyst
with MCM consulting firm in Sao Paulo.

The polls were a setback for Alckmin, who had begun to gain
ground after a recent campaign blitz.

"The polls are a surprise and a disappointment," said
Gustavo Fruet, a congressman from Alckmin's Brazilian Social
Democracy Party.

Analysts blamed Alckmin's 8-point fall in one poll partly
on Sen. Heloisa Helena, a firebrand socialist who won support
among voters opposed to Lula.

In the poll conducted by Sensus, 9.3 percent of those
surveyed said they would vote for Helena, up from 5.4 percent
last month. Twelve percent of survey respondents in a Datafolha
poll said they would cast ballots for her.

Helena, a left-wing hard-liner ousted from Lula's ruling
Workers' Party for criticizing his conservative economic
policy, was thought to be more of a challenge to Lula than
Alckmin. But opinion polls show she gained many of the
well-educated, higher-income voters that backed Alckmin.

Analysts said increased wages and economic growth boosted
Lula's standing.

Despite a television campaign in June and July, Alckmin
slumped, in part, because his TV helped build short-term name
recognition but did not win loyal voters, analysts said.

"Polls are very sensitive to television exposure," said
Christopher Garman, political analyst with Eurasia Group
consultancy in New York.

A wave of gang violence in Alckmin's home state, Sao Paulo,
in July may have tainted his image as an efficient governor and
added to his poll drop, Garman said.

Alckmin is convinced he can bounce back in the polls
because, starting Tuesday, he has 42 percent more free airtime
than Lula for television campaigning. The time is awarded for
the size of each candidate's alliance in Congress.

"The race is not over yet," Fruet said.

Television is the only way to reach most of the 125 million
registered voters, and most analysts believe the exposure can
help tip the balance in a tight race.

But Arko Advice, a Brasilia-based consulting firm, said TV
has failed to turn around any of the past three elections.

"To depend only on the radio and TV advertising campaign is
not enough for victory," it said in a report this week.

The upcoming TV campaign will boost Alckmin and undermine
Helena, who has one-tenth of his airtime, but it won't be
enough to threaten Lula, Garman said.

"Whether it's the first or second round, Lula is likely to
win. People are better off than four years ago and that is hard
to beat," he said.