Lula 'clones' cash in on president's popularity in Brazil's election race

Four candidates who have registered under leader's name, believe that 'borrowing' his identity will give them boost in polls.

Barack Obama called him "my man". His followers refer to him as "our guide". And to millions of loyal voters across Brazil he is simply Lula – a working-class hero who hauled millions out of poverty and became one of the most popular leaders on earth.

Which explains why, while Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's name won't be on the ballot in this year's elections for the first time in 21 years, his legend will live on, as politicians around the country aim to cash-in on Lula's staggering popularity levels – by borrowing his name.

At least four "Lula clones" have registered to run under their president's name in October's general elections, in the hope some of his magic will rub off on them.

"We have a president with approval ratings of more than 80% and I think this would help anyone who has the same name or looks like him," said Luiz "Lula" da Silva. He is running for federal deputy in São Paulo and his bushy beard and virtually identical name are said to have shocked the president himself.

"It's natural. It's just like looking like Obama – that will give anyone a boost," said São Paulo's Lula, a former gravedigger and member of the president's Workers Party, who is running on an anti-crack cocaine ticket. "We are similar in many ways. He thinks I'm the guy who looks most like him in the whole of Brazil."

Elsewhere, residents in Lauro de Freitas, a small town in Bahia state, can vote for Luis "Lula" Maciel and in the Amazon region the 36-year-old Angelo da Silva Pereira "Lula".

"In the presidential election Lula is [Brazil's] top canvasser," Istoé magazine said, claiming the outgoing president "carried influence over nearly two-thirds of voters."

President Lula is not the first political leader to be "cloned" in Brazilian elections. The 2008 local elections saw several candidates run under the nickname "Obama". Candidates dubbed "bin Laden" and "Maradona" are also reported.

With the first round of presidential elections now less than 60 days away, polls indicate that Lula's former chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, may be consolidating her lead over opposition candidate José Serra with 39% of the vote compared to Serra's 34%.

Rousseff has invoked Lula's achievements while Serra has adopted the campaign slogan "Brazil can do more", promising greater investment in infrastructure and security.

(Published by The Guardian – August 8, 2010)

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