IN OTHER WORDS: Lula’s travails

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva failed to clear the hurdle of 50 per cent in Sunday’s first round of voting.

In electoral terms, this means that to win another four-year term he will have to survive an October 29 runoff against Geraldo Alckmin, the governor of Sao Paulo state who trailed by less than 10 percentage points.

But there is a larger significance to the battle now joined between the incumbent — a former union leader known to Brazilians simply as Lula — and a challenger with a similar social-democratic platform.

This electoral contest illustrates how firmly democracy has taken root in Brazil two decades after the end of military dictatorship. Corruption scandals cost Lula a first-round victory.

Lula’s travails suggest that Brazil’s political culture is resistant to any presidential monopoly of power.

Unlike Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Lula does not try to intimidate the press or bully political opponents.

Until now, he has defined the role of a progressive Latin American leader who combines a genuine devotion to social justice with budgetary discipline and a will to promote economic growth. But this role demands that he be truly accountable to the voters of Brazil. That’s what it means to be a true progressive democrat.