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The race to Brazil’s presidential election in October showed the first sign of developing into a genuine two-way contest on Friday with the publication of an opinion poll showing the challenger to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president, making his first inroad into the president’s popularity.

According to the survey by Datafolha, a polling organisation linked to daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Mr Lula da Silva would win the election by a simple majority if it were held today. But Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist opposition PSDB, his main challenger, has narrowed the president’s lead to 17 percentage points from 23 points at the previous poll a month ago.

The poll gave Mr Lula da Silva 46 per cent of the vote. Discounting those who say they would enter a void vote or vote for nobody, this gives him 54 per cent of valid votes. That would be enough to avoid a second-round run-off, widely seen as Mr Alckmin’s only chance of victory.

The president’s showing improved by 1 percentage point from the previous poll while Mr Alckmin’s improved by 7 points, to 29 per cent of the vote.

Mr Alckmin’s support increased after a series of party broadcasts by the PSDB in which Mr Alckmin featured prominently. Campaigning for the election begins on July 5. From August 15 voters will be bombarded by free electoral broadcasts on primetime television and radio in which the alliance backing Mr Alckmin will have slightly more airtime than that backing the president.

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