Sao Paulo, Oct. 28 (Reuters): Former metalworker Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva clinched Brazil’s presidency in a runoff yesterday, winning a large mandate to lead the first elected Left government in Latin America’s biggest country.
With 87 per cent of the official ballots tallied, the man everyone calls Lula had won 61 per cent of the vote, prompting rival Jose Serra, with 39 per cent, to concede defeat.
“I’m calling you to recognise your victory and to wish you good luck in the presidency for the good of the country,” Serra, the candidate of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s ruling coalition, told Lula in a telephone conversation relayed by aides.
In his fourth bid to be Brazil’s first working-class president, Lula rode a wave of discontent with rising unemployment and spiralling crime but was forced to move to the centre to woo voters wary of his radical past. Legions of Lula voters spilled out into the streets two decades after the former labour leader organised massive marches against the military dictatorship in Sao Paulo’s industrial belt and planted the seeds for his Workers’ Party.
“Lula said he was being elected President of the republic in the name of our generation, everyone who fought for democracy in Brazil and dreamed about this moment,” said party President Jose Dirceu. The election and the government transition in January are considered a vital test for Brazil’s young democracy in what is the fourth presidential election in the world’s fourth most populous democracy since the end of the 1964-1985 military rule. Lula, who celebrated his 57th birthday yesterday, will be sworn in on January 1, 2003, to a four-year term. He will take the reins at a difficult time in Brazil, where a decade of unbridled free-market reforms have shown mixed results. Brazil is in the throes of a financial crisis that has crippled its currency and sparked fears of a default on its $260 billion public debt. Brazil also has the world’s second-highest murder rate, following war-torn Colombia.