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Presidential Election in Brazil Fails to Impress Jewish Electorate

Brazil’s first free presidential election in 30 years has turned out to be something of a letdown for the country’s approximately 180,000 Jews.

The first Jewish candidate for president of this overwhelmingly Catholic country, media tycoon and television entertainer Silvio Santos, was knocked off the ballot on a technicality less than a week before the polls opened.

The two candidates most favored by Jewish voters were eliminated in the Nov. 15 voting.

What seems most likely now is a runoff election on Dec. 17 between two candidates who did not particularly impress Jews during the presidential campaign.

The front-runners are Fernando Collor de Mello, described as a free-market advocate, and Luis Inacio da Silva, a left-wing labor leader, known as Lula.

Collor disenchanted Jews by his flip-flops on the Palestine Liberation Organization.

After promising Jewish audiences that, if elected, he would never recognize the PLO or a Palestinian state, he withdrew those statements later, saying he was misquoted.

Although Collor has claimed distant Jewish ancestry, he is well aware of the political clout wielded by Brazil’s large population of Arab origin, which vastly outnumbers the country’s Jews.

Lula’s Labor Party is at least consistent. It makes no bones about its close ties with the PLO leadership.

But in reply to questions by Shalom, a Jewish monthly, the candidate said that, if elected, his policy would be to support a Palestinian state while granting Israel the strictest security guarantees.

The Labor Party is the only one in Brazil to maintain a separate Jewish department. And some of its most prominent leaders are Jews, such as economist Paul Singer, a probable nominee for the office of finance minister if Lula wins.

Another Jewish Labor figure is industrialist Max Altman, the party’s campaign treasurer.

Nonetheless, only 5 percent of Jewish voters said they would support the Labor candidate, and no more than 6 percent would vote for Collor.

During the campaign, polls gave 34.3 percent of the Jewish vote to the Social Democratic candidate, Mario Covas, and 27 percent to conservative Afif Domingos, who is of Lebanese origin.

But neither got past the first round of balloting.

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