Brazil's Lula doubles lead in latest poll

Updated: 2006-10-20 10:15

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's lead over rival Geraldo Alckmin for the run-off vote on October 29 more than doubled from last week, a poll showed on Thursday, as the two prepared for a television debate.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, candidate for re-election, is prepared for a debate to be televised live with his rival, Geraldo Alckmin, in Sao Paulo, October 19, 2006. Alckmin and Lula will face off in the second round runoff election on October 29. [Reuters]

Lula also rejected opposition claims of pork barrel spending in an interview with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper and brushed off allegations that his government was bloated, saying he opposed cutting the number of ministries.

A survey by Vox Populi pollster showed Lula, a folksy former union boss, would win 61 percent of the valid votes, compared with 55 percent in a poll released on October 12, which gives him an advantage of 22 points over conservative Alckmin.

Former Sao Paulo state Gov. Alckmin, a conservative favored by many business leaders, would fetch 39 percent of valid votes, down from 45 percent last week. The poll was carried out Monday and Tuesday.

Lula, Brazil's first working class president, has painted his opponent as a ruthless budget slasher who would throw civil servants out of work to put Brazil's fiscal house in order. Alckmin has said he wants to reduce the size of the government, expanded under Lula to supervise social programs.

Lula expanded the size of his Cabinet by about 10 to some 30 ministries during his nearly four years at the helm of Latin America's largest country.

"I gave ministerial status to the secretaries of racial equality, women, fisheries and human rights because the population demanded it," Lula told Folha. "These secretaries are symbolic."

Alckmin says Lula has allowed expenditures to gallop at a double-digit pace and promises to rationalize spending.

Lula's chances of a first-round victory on October 1 were derailed when police caught aides in his Workers' Party trying to buy a dossier to smear opponents, and he acknowledged he will face legal punishment if an investigation shows money from his campaign was involved in the scandal.

"If it is proven that an electoral crime was committed, I and any other common citizen will have to pay for the crime we committed," he said.

In the first bruising television debate between the two on October 8, Alckmin accused Lula of lying to cover up a series of irregularities, putting the president on the defensive. Some analysts expected him to broaden the attacks in Thursday's clash of the candidates on SBT television.

As in previous corruption scandals that have plagued his government, Lula says he was unaware of the dirty tricks scheme. He has since been increasingly on the offensive, accusing Alckmin of planning to privatize state companies, which could lead to massive layoffs.

Lula also told Folha he had no regrets about trying to expel a New York Times reporter from Brazil in 2004 for alleging that Lula drank too much.

Society accepts presidents from well-heeled backgrounds who drink whiskey, but criticize leaders from humble origins who might sip an occasional drink, Lula said.

"If an upscale president drinks whiskey at a cocktail party that is considered chic. But not with Lula," he said. Lula said he avoids drinking at parties so he does not give the wrong impression.