President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil was gearing up for another month of campaigning on Monday after being forced into a surprise run-off election against the centre’s Geraldo Alckmin.
Mr Lula da Silva, who failed to win an outright majority in Sunday’s presidential elections, was in closed meetings on Monday, but he reportedly told aides that one of the mistakes he made was to decline to take part in a televised debate two days before the election.
The president faces a two-way contest with Mr Alckmin of the PSDB, who won a surprisingly high 41.6 per cent of the valid vote – well ahead of his showing in opinion polls – against Mr Lula da Silva’s 48.6 per cent.
On Monday, the president left it to Tarso Genro, a minister and close aide, to comment on the result and by midday on Monday had yet to appear himself.
“He is making it seem that he has taken umbrage and a democrat shouldn’t show annoyance at the decision of the voters,” said Miriam Leitão, a commentator on politics and economics.
More damaging than Mr Lula da Silva’s silence in the days leading up to the vote was a bungled attempt by his campaign managers and leaders of his left-leaning party, the PT, to smear an opposition candidate – José Serra of the PSDB, who won an easy victory in the race for governor of São Paulo state.
As well as president and state governors, Brazilians voted on Sunday for representatives in the federal and state legislatures.
The bungled smear campaign brought corruption and ethics back to the centre of the election campaign. The Lula administration has been hit by a string of corruption scandals over the past 18 months that at one point threatened to bring down the government.
For most of the campaign voters chose to concentrate instead on the low inflation and relative economic stability of the past four years. Mr Lula da Silva’s economic policies – many of which he inherited from the previous, PSDB administration – have been especially beneficial for the poor who make up the mass of Brazil’s voters.
The poor have also benefited from a quadrupling of spending on income transfer programmes that have reached about 12m families, or 44m people.
But while such policies produced strong support for the president in the less developed north and north-east, they were overshadowed in the rest of the country by the smear campaign and its reminder of broader corruption in the Lula government.
“There has been an upsurge in the level of moral indignation among voters,” said Walder de Góes, a political scientist in Brasília. “That is something that will help the Alckmin campaign. The Lula camp has fallen apart.”
Mr Alckmin, who began his campaign refusing to comment on corruption and concentrating instead on proposals for growth, began strongly to question the government’s record on ethics during the campaign’s final days.
He had previously concentrated on the government’s failure to enact difficult reforms needed to produce money for investment in drivers of growth, but this failed to generate much resonance with voters.
The question now is whether Mr Alckmin will be able to take enough voters away from Mr Lula da Silva to secure a majority on October 29 – and whether the president’s sliding popularity has reached bottom or still has room to fall.
“People say the second round is a whole new election,” said Ricardo Ismael, a political scientist in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s more like a football game going into extra time. And what matters then is how you played in the last minutes of normal time.”