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Sep 29, 2006

Brazil and Austria go to the polls

Two major elections are being held this Sunday, and for a change neither of them looks like being a cliffhanger.


Two major elections are being held this Sunday, and for a change neither of them looks like being a cliffhanger.

The bigger one is in Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy, where president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is running for a second term of office. Lula was regarded as a radical leftist when elected in 2002, but has governed more like a mainstream social democrat. Despite the usual scandals and discontentment, Lula is a strong favourite for re-election.

His main opponent is Geraldo Alckmin, who heads a coalition of his own Social Democrats and the centre-right Liberal Front. Also running for the extreme left is Heloísa Helena, who was expelled from Lula’s party after opposing his shift towards the centre on economic policy.

If Lula fails to win an absolute majority on Sunday, a second round of voting will be held on 29 October.

Sunday’s other election is in Austria, currently governed by the centre-right People’s Party under chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. Schüssel first became chancellor in 2000 after controversially forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider.

Austria’s neighbours were outraged at the extreme right being admitted to power, but Schüssel’s strategy was vindicated at the following election (in 2002), when the Freedom Party, no longer able to pose as outsiders, lost more than half its votes. Although the coalition was renewed, Haider and most of his followers later split to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria.

Opinion polls have consistently shown the People’s Party with a clear but narrow lead over the opposition Social Democrats, although the balance of power will almost certainly continue to be held by the Freedom Party and the Greens. Austria’s Greens are pragmatic enough to negotiate with both major parties, so if he can maintain his lead on Sunday Schüssel will have a choice of possible coalition partners.


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