Cardoso set for outright victory in Brazil

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(First Edition)

BRASILIA (Reuter) - Brazil's free-market champion, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, hid from public view yesterday as election vote counting began and newspapers hailed him as the new president.

Exit polls from Monday's presidential election showed Mr Cardoso, an advocate of social reforms and opening up the rule-bound economy, sweeping to victory by nearly 6 million votes more than all other candidates combined.

That meant Mr Cardoso, candidate of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, would avoid a run-off with his nearest rival, the left-wing candidate, Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva.

'FHC Is President,' the Folha de Sao Paulo daily said in a banner headline, and the capital's Correio Brasiliense reported: 'Social Democracy Takes Power.' O Estado de Sao Paulo hailed Mr Cardoso as 'The Mulatto Prince', and columnist Jose Castello wrote: 'With his virtual ascension to the presidency, he sets a standard for the country - the intellectual that puts reality above ideas . . that means good times for us.'

As Brazil began the slow process of counting paper ballots cast by nearly 95 million voters, the first trickle of results from the Superior Electoral Court indicated Mr Cardoso far ahead.

The court showed Mr Cardoso, a former economy minister, with 31,381 votes, or 52.9 per cent, against 12,923 or 21.8 per cent, for Mr da Silva. The other six candidates had 14,969 votes combined, or 25.3 per cent, with the remaining ballots disqualified or blank. the Election Court president, Sepulveda Pertence, said final results were not likely for 15 days.