About 95 million voters in four time zones were choosing a new president, federal deputies, two-thirds of the senate, state governors and 1,500 state legislators. The campaign has been almost entirely peaceful, but the army has sent troops to 12 of 27 states to keep order during the voting.
Mr Cardoso, a former economy minister, seeking to open up Brazil's rule-bound economy, has a huge lead over his nearest rival, a former union leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of the Socialist Workers Party.
The candidate of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party, Mr Cardoso said that Brazil's voters were demanding change and an end to old-style political machines and deal-cutting. 'Brazil has changed. It doesn't accept this string-pulling, rhetoric nor the demagogy that used to be habitual,' he said in Rio de Janeiro. 'There is no way that a conservative candidate, or one perceived as conservative, can win at the polls,' he added. A poll published by the capital's Correio Brasiliense newspaper showed Mr Cardoso with 48 per cent support, Mr da Silva at 22 per cent and six other candidates with a combined 17 per cent.
Mr da Silva admitted that only a miracle could keep Mr Cardoso from winning. Mr Cardoso has soared in polls, on the success of an anti-inflation plan.
'The people can be the victim of the biggest piece of flattering deceit in the country's history,' the capital's Jornal do Brasilia newspaper quoted him as saying. 'But I've got the fixed idea that I will make it to a run-off because the people are going to wake up in time and see they are the victim of a trick.'
The programme, known as the 'Plano Real', after the new currency, cut inflation from 50 per cent a month in June to 2 per cent last month. But there are signs it might run into trouble. Owners of supermarket chains said that they would raise prices after the elections.Reuse content