Late surge pits 'no-hoper' against Lula for run-off

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The Independent US

He was mocked for being dull and boring and written off as a no-hoper, but the conservative Geraldo Alckmin has won the right to a political show-down with Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after a late surge of support halted the incumbent's hopes of winning re-election in the first round.

A final tally of Sunday's election, announced by the Supreme Electoral Court yesterday morning, gave Lula 48.6 per cent, Mr Alckmin a better than expected 41.6 and the third- placed Heloísa Helena 6.8. Lula had needed 50 per cent for an outright victory and instead he will now face Mr Alckmin in what is likely to be a bitter and ugly run-off vote on 29 October.

"I'm going to the second round with a great chance of winning the election. We're going to have an ethical, honest and efficient government," Mr Alckmin, 53, told a cheering crowd at his power base here in the early hours yesterday. "The run-off will change Brazil."

Lula, 60, candidate of the leftist Workers Party (PT), appeared to be cementing a remarkable comeback and securing re-election as leader of Latin America's largest nation after a series of scandals a year ago threatened to force him from the race. But in the closing days of the campaign new scandals emerged, leading to more resignations of senior party members and raising fresh doubts among some voters.

The fact that PT operatives were caught offering $770,000 (£400,000) for a dossier aimed at linking Mr Alckmin's Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PDSB) to a kick-back scheme may have led some to support him. The PT accused the PDSB of leaking, to a number of newspapers, photographs of piles of money that had allegedly been used to try to purchase the dossier.

On the campaign trail there was little to separate Lula and Mr Alckmin in terms of policies - both talked of maintaining conservative fiscal policy while trying to address the country's poverty. But the former governor of Sao Paulo state, which is home to 40 per cent of the country's population, was always quick to point to the corruption scandals that had engulfed his rival's party.

The need for a run-off will now result in another month of intense and brutal campaigning in which Mr Alckmin will most likely try to capitalise on the corruption scandals still surrounding Lula. Given that he secured almost 49 per cent of the vote, even now Lula ought to be considered the favourite, but much will depend on whether new, damaging information emerges between now and polling day. "In the run-off, the candidates will adopt a harsher tone," Marco Melo, the chief analyst at the Agora Senior brokerage here, said.

The outcome will also depend on the decision of the supporters of Ms Helena and fourth-placed Cristovam Buarque as to whom to back in the run-off.

Ms Helena, a former nurse, has asked her supporters to abstain while Mr Buarque has asked his supporters to back Mr Alckmin. That said, if Lula holds on to those who voted for him, he has only to win over 1.5 per cent of the total 9.6 per cent who voted for minor candidates, in order to secure victory.

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