Brazil's Watershed Election

On October 6th, Brazil will hold its first round presidential elections in a vote that is seen as a referendum on President Fernando H. Cardoso's eight years in power.

The front-runners -- four-time presidential candidate Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva of the Workers' Party, the leader in the polls all year; and former governor and finance minister Ciro Gomes of the Progressive Socialist Party -- claim that Cardoso's rule made Brazil more vulnerable than ever before to the vagaries of international markets. José Serra from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, Cardoso's favorite, is now running second to Lula after a long summer battle. Although aligned with the President, even he avoids saying that his presidency would be a second act to Cardoso's first term.

That act began in 1994 with the promise of economic stabilization and was extended four years with Cardoso's re-election in 1998. During Cardoso's tenure, he privatized telecoms, the national mining company and part of the electric sector. Inflation fell, but unemployment, public debt, and urban violence all rose sharply. Social inequalities heightened, and last year Brazil suffered blackouts and electricity rationing.