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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Election Reveals Class Divide

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Brazilians are dividing mainly along class lines before their Oct. 29 runoff election, which pits their first working-class president against a patrician anesthesiologist who governed Brazil's wealthiest state.

Some political analysts fear the increasingly divided electorate -- and the tightening race between Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and challenger Geraldo Alckmin -- spell trouble in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on no more than $500 per month.

"Whoever is elected is going to have a very big problem governing and that problem won't be in congress. It's going to be with the people," said Alexandre Barros, of Early Warning political consultants. "The elite won't accept a loss by 1 or 2 million votes, and vice versa."

Silva took 48.6 percent of the first-round vote, while Alckmin got about 42 percent. With just two candidates in the runoff, Silva leads Alckmin by about 56 percent to 44 percent of the valid vote, according to recent polls.

Among the nation's poor, Silva's lead widens to 59-34 percent, according to the Datafolha polling organization.

Alckmin, on the other hand, had 69 percent backing among the nation's wealthy minority compared with 34 percent for Silva.

They also split along geographic lines in the first round: Silva won solidly across Brazil's poor north and northeast while Alckmin took the industrialized south, including Sao Paulo, the state in which he served as governor.

In 2002, Silva's support was more widespread, cutting across class lines, and he defeated his rival Jose Serra by 61 percent to 39 percent.

"This differentiation is a novel phenomenon in Brazil," said Albert Fishlow, director of the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University in New York. "I'm a little concerned about how Brazil survives this differentiation."

Alckmin, a cool, if slightly stiff, technocrat, has criticized the corruption scandals that reached Silva's inner circle, and has vowed to rein in "an out-of-control government machine."

But Silva remains popular, largely because of his successful expansion of the "Bolsa Familia," or Family Allowance, a program that provides monthly subsidies to poor families who keep their children in school and meet other requirements.

Silva also scored points with the poor by raising the country's monthly minimum wage 17 percent to $158 in April.

Ciro Gomes, Silva's former National Integration Minister, warned that an Alckmin victory could cause the kind of social schism that has rocked Venezuela under leftist President Hugo Chavez.

"The electoral-political process loses credibility because of these social tensions. And [if Alckmin wins] we will see a phenomenon similar to what we see in Venezuela and across Latin America," Gomes said.