LUIS INACIO 'Lula' da Silva came within a hair's breadth of winning the Brazilian presidential election on Sunday. The former left wing socialist and strike leader got 47 percent of votes, almost double that of any other candidate. Lula fell just short of the 50 percent he needed to win outright, and will now face a run-off on 27 October against Jose Serra.
Serra was the candidate backed by the outgoing president, Cardoso, getting just 24 percent of votes on Sunday. There is massive disillusionment with eight years of the neo-liberal policies pursued by Cardoso's government. Lula and his Workers Party have moved to the right in recent years. Lula has said he will honour Brazil's massive foreign debt, and pledged to accept the harsh restrictions on public spending imposed in an International Monetary Fund package agreed by the current government.
Despite this, if Lula were to win the second round it would awaken enormous expectations of change among ordinary Brazilians. Lula has won the overwhelming bulk of his support from workers and the poor. 'He will give us better housing, more jobs. Brazil will finally have a champion of the poor as its president,' said Marcia dos Santos, who works as a maid in Rio de Janeiro.
Such hopes are likely to be dashed by a Lula-led government. But they could translate into demands for change, which could go much further than Lula or Brazil's rich want.
A victory for Lula would encourage all those resisting the effects of neo-liberal policies across Latin America. Between now and the second round of voting Lula will face a barrage of hostility.
Instead of seeking to mobilise the millions of workers and poor behind his campaign, Lula is likely to try and secure victory by promising that he does not really threaten those at the top. Brazil's workers and poor will need much more than that if the hopes for change that Sunday's vote reflected is to become a reality.