Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Brazilian president begins campaign for a second term

AP , SAO BERNARDO DO CAMPO, BRAZIL

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva began his campaign for re-election by promising to help Brazil's poor and uneducated working class.

"Our goal was, is and shall be to improve the lives of workers," Silva told supporters on Thursday at a dinner in this industrial suburb of Sao Paulo where Silva, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftist politicians launched the Workers Party, or PT, 27 years ago.

"For us, economic policy and social policy are two faces of same coin," Silva said.

The 60-year-old president, who has rebounded from a corruption scandal and risen in public opinion polls, is heavily favored to win a second four-year term in the Oct. 1 election.

"He's the best president Brazil has ever had," said Valter Samara, a 69-year-old farmer who came from neighboring Parana state to attend the dinner.

Silva, a grade-school dropout and former factory worker from the poor northeast, has strong support among working-class Brazilians. His cautious economic policy has kept the country on a path of steady growth, while the minimum wage has risen sharply to US$160 a month.

"Millions of Brazilians have left poverty under my administration and entered the middle class," Silva said. "Employment rates have in risen every single month of my government."

Life-size posters of Silva and banners reading "Lula again, with the strength of the people" decorated the huge Sao Judas Tadeu restaurant, where some 3,000 people attended the US$92-a-plate fundraiser.

The PT has set a limit on campaign expenses, as required by law, and plans to spend US$41 million, about 30 percent more than in 2002.

In a survey this week by the polling firm Sensus, 44 percent of respondents backed Silva compared with 27 percent for his closest rival, former Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Social Democracy Party.

Sensus said that, discounting undecided voters and blank or voided ballots, Silva would probably get the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff Oct. 29.

PT President Ricardo Berzoini said on Wednesday that one of Silva's biggest challenges is to recover the support of the middle class, which helped catapult him to the presidency four years ago.

He said many middle-class Brazilians felt excluded from the government's social programs aimed at helping the poor.

"Our campaign will show that reducing social inequality stimulates the economy and reduces crime rates, thus benefiting the middle class as well," Berzoini said.

A recent survey by the Datafolha polling institute showed that under Silva at least 6 million poor Brazilians entered the middle class.

Another major campaign issue is public safety, which has been highlighted in recent months after gangs launched prison rebellions and attacks on buses, police stations and civilian targets.

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