SAO PAULO, Brazil – President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a second term in a landslide victory Sunday with Brazilians rewarding their first working class leader after he helped ease grinding poverty while improving the economy of Latin America's largest country.
With 94 percent of the votes counted, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had 61 percent support compared to 39 percent for the center-right Geraldo Alckmin, Sao Paulo state's former governor. Election officials said Alckmin would be unable to pull ahead even if he won all of the remaining votes.
Silva's win came after Alckmin made a surprisingly strong showing in a first round of voting on Oct. 1. The vote went to a second round after Silva failed to get 50 percent plus one vote required for an outright win.
But the leftist president had the firm support from Brazil's tens of millions of poor voters, who have benefited handsomely over the past three years as Silva increased social spending without raising taxes. Silva also overcame corruption scandals that tarnished the image of his administration.
His Workers Party has been battered for two years by charges of vote-buying and illegal campaign financing, scandals that have cost the former labor leader and lathe operator his reputation as a bastion of political ethics.
Alckmin hit the corruption allegations hard, but the scandals never touched Silva personally and his tepid campaign style and robotic image failed to win over working-class voters in this country with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor.
Silva voted at a school in the industrial Sao Paulo suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo, just next to the small house where he lived when he got his start as a union leader organizing strikes and opposing Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship.
"If I win these elections, then the integration of South America will have won," Silva said. He promised to ease the vast divide between rich and poor and to improve education so that Brazil can "take a leap in quality in the world of politics, economics and business."
Outside the polling station, Silva plunged into the adoring crowds to hug supporters and kiss the Brazilian flag.
More than 125 million Brazilians were expected to vote in Sunday's runoff elections for president and for governor in 10 of Brazil's 27 states where elections were not decided in the first round.
Alckmin voted in Sao Paulo's upscale Morumbi district accompanied by former-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the state's governor-elect Jose Serra, who lost to Silva in the 2002 presidential elections.
"What really matters is the voting and not the polls," Alckmin said.
Alckmin trailed Silva throughout the campaign but appeared to gain momentum briefly early this month after he forced Silva into a second round in the Oct. 1 elections, where Silva fell just short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
Polls had predicted Silva would win outright, but his campaign was tripped up after the news media ran photos of $770,000 in cash that members of his Workers Party allegedly planned to spend on purchasing an incriminating file about Alckmin and his allies.
The charges followed a string of corruption allegations against Silva's leftist Workers' Party. While Silva was never personally implicated, the allegations reinforced suspicions of government corruption — suspicions stressed by Alckmin in his campaign speeches.
Cardoso, who was president for eight years prior to Silva, continued to hammer at the allegations against Silva's party, known here at the PT.
"The PT can't cover up the crimes, Brazil has to investigate," Cardoso said. "Brazil is tired of impunity."
Still, Alckmin failed to make the corruption charges stick to Silva during the second round.
Instead, Silva battered his opponent with accusations that the former governor of Brazil's richest state would privatize cherished state industries and end the popular Family Allowance program that provides monthly payouts to 11 million poor families as long as they keep their children in school and get them vaccinated.
While Alckmin has repeatedly said he would continue the program, analysts say it has helped lift millions out of poverty and translated into guaranteed votes for Silva. Also, Silva managed to reduce Brazil's notoriously high inflation through high interest rates, and prices of staples such as rice and beans even dropped.
Aloisio Pisco, a 36-year-old doorman, said Silva's handling of the economy earned him the right to a second term.
"Lula, he's the best; he's created jobs and prices are cheaper," said Pisco.
But some felt the corruption scandal showed Silva is no different than other politicians in a nation long accustomed to corruption.
"I didn't vote for that bum," said Jose Gomes Araujo, who reupholsters furniture. "He says the PT is the party of the workers, but he's never worked a day in his life."