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June 13, 2006 9:01 pm

Lula consolidates his lead in Brazilian election race

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Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, has consolidated his lead in the race to elections in October and support for his government has reached record levels, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.

The poll confirms the results of other recent polls showing that if elections were held now Mr Lula da Silva would win an outright majority without the need for a second-round run-off.

A second round is widely regarded as the only hope for Geraldo Alckmin, confirmed at the weekend as presidential candidate of the centrist opposition PSDB.

According to Tuesday’s poll, commissioned by the national confederation of industry (CNI) and carried out between June 5 and 7 by Ibope, a market research company, Mr Lula da Silva has 48 per cent of the vote compared with 18 or 19 per cent for Mr Alckmin, de-pending on which other candidates are included.

The poll showed voter approval of the government rising to 44 per cent from 38 per cent in the previous CNI-Ibope poll in March – higher than the 43 per cent recorded during Mr Lula da Silva’s first year in power.

The president’s personal approval rating rose from 55 per cent in March to 60 per cent, lower than the 70 per cent he achieved three years ago but the highest level since the start of a corruption scandal that sent the president’s and the government’s support plummeting a little more than a year ago.

The poll suggests that the opposition has failed to capitalise on the corruption scandal and on the consequent near-paralysis of government over the past year.

Voters have been more impressed by positive news on the economy in recent months. Consumer price inflation has fallen to within the government’s target of 4.5 per cent this year, boosting the spending power of Mr Lula da Silva’s natural constituents among the poor and vindicating the central bank’s maintenance of high interest rates in spite of protests from business leaders and politicians on all sides.

Poorer voters are also grateful for the government’s income support programmes, while consumption has been boosted by the wider availability of credit, especially through new consumer loans guaranteed by payroll or pension entitlements.

Economists have warned that Brazil will not achieve sustainable growth unless it tackles some severe fiscal problems such as overspending on public payroll and pensions.

But figures for the first quarter showed the economy growing by 1.4 per cent over the previous quarter, in line with the government’s 4.5 per cent target for the year and a further boost to its support.

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