Brazil’s President Forced Into Second Election Round

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The incumbent president of Brazil, leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, failed to win an outright majority in first round presidential balloting and so will have to face his challenger, center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin in a second round.

Polls had predicted that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would trounce the center-right Geraldo Alckmin with far more than the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win the contest in the first round.

But with the entire vote counted on Monday, Silva got 48.6 percent compared to 41.6 percent for Alckmin, the former governor of Sao Paulo state, Brazil's richest and most populous.

It was a stunning setback for Silva.

"Alckmin now has a chance, and a good one," said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with the Brasilia-based Early Warning political risk consulting group.

Another analyst, however, said the president,known popularly as Lula, should not be counted out in the Oct. 29 runoff.

"For Alckmin to win the election, voters who supported Lula in the first round would have to switch over to Alckmin in the second," said Christopher Garman, Latin America analyst with the Eurasia Group.

Silva had pretty much been assured a victory until two weeks before the election:

Silva's administration has a long history of corruption scandals, having been accused of bribing lawmakers, laundering money, illegal campaign financing and diverting public funds. The scandals have toppled some of Silva's closest aides and much of his party's top brass.

But Silva seemed assured of a first-round victory until two weeks ago when Worker Party operatives were caught allegedly trying to pay $770,000 in cash for information to incriminate Alckmin's Social Democracy Party.

The target of the alleged smear campaign was Jose Serra, an Alckmin ally who won the race Sunday night to become Sao Paulo state's next governor, handily beating the Workers' Party candidate.

Major newspapers ran front-page photos over the weekend showing stacks of banknotes seized in the Worker Party sting. Six Worker Party officials, including an old friend of Silva's who ran his personal security detail, are accused of a scheme to purchase documents, photos and DVDs they apparently thought would link Serra to kickbacks on the purchase of ambulances while he was health minister between 1998 and 2002.

There's a lesson there about trying to use smear tactics. They sometimes bite the user worse than the intended victim.

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