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.

From the start of the campaign, Lula showed strength, especially after the right's favored candidate, Roseana Sarney, crashed and burned when federal police and prosecutors discovered a load of cash in her husband's office. Mr. and Mrs. Sarney were eventually absolved of all charges, but not soon enough to save her candidacy. Her party accused Serra's of orchestrating the attack and, in revenge, her party -- the Liberal Front -- threw its support to Ciro Gomes.