Easy race for Lula in Brazil

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

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SCOTT JAGOW: Brazil holds its presidential election on Sunday. This won't be like the Mexican election this summer: too close to call, recounts, court hearings. The outcome in Brazil is all but certain.The incumbent leads his closest rival in the polls by as much as 25 percent. From Rio de Janeiro, Paulo Prada explains why.


PAULO PRADA: Campaigning in Brazil is in full swing. The country's sidewalks, roads and airwaves are abuzz with banners, jingles and other propaganda.
[ Campaign rap song plays ]

In this rap, blaring along Rio's waterfront, the underdog Green party promises to make the city a cleaner, safer place.

But this election, like most, boils down to one thing: voters' wallets.

Booming exports, a strong currency, and conservative economic policies have enabled President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to curb inflation, post a budget surplus and slash the foreign debt.

It's also allowed him to boost the minimum wage and invest in social programs for Brazil's 70 million poor.

Marcos Figueiredo is a political scientist in Rio. He says those disillusioned with Lula's policies are far outnumbered by the working class, which makes up 75% of the electorate.

Babilônia is one of Rio's many favelas, or slums. It's also a Lula stronghold.

Most residents rely on temporary jobs and count on Lula's bolsa familia, a family allowance program, to get by.

The program provides family members as much as $30 apiece every month to buy food, medicine, cooking gas, and other essentials.

Maria Elena Pereira is the 51-year-old cook for a school in Babilônia. She lives with two unemployed adult children and five grandkids. The program helps her buy meat and produce once impossible on monthly earnings of about $130.

Thank God Lula's in power, she says.

Even those more critical say they continue to trust Lula. He is, after all, Brazil's first working-class president, a man who grew up hungry and poor himself.

Marcelo Eduardo is an activist in Babilônia's community association.

He says the programs are good, but the government should do more than give handouts to create jobs and spur growth.

Brazil's economy this year is expected to grow by just over 3%, slower than other South American countries like Argentina, Colombia, and Chile.

But poor Brazilians, Eduardo says, still feel better than they did four years ago. With Lula running for a second and final term, they're support is expected to be loud and clear at the ballot box.

In Rio de Janeiro, this is Paulo Prada for Marketplace.

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