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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Jose Serra: Crisis of charisma
Jose Serra addresses a rally in a key state
Mr Serra: Involved in politics from an early age
Government coalition candidate Jose Serra is a distinguished academic whose spell as health minister won him an international reputation.

But his campaign has been dogged by a tetchy image and lacklustre oratory.

Sixty year-old Mr Serra was born into a family of poor Italian immigrants who worked as fruit traders. His passion for politics began early.

By the time of the 1964 military coup he was a firebrand, leading the National Students' Union.

Brazil is on the right course, but we need to speed up and carry on making changes

Jose Serra
Forced into exile, Mr Serra studied economics in the United States and Chile where he met his ballerina wife, Monica, and current President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

He was a member of the group of Sao Paulo intellectuals who founded the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) in 1988.

He went on to serve as a federal deputy and senator, as well as planning and health minister.

Aids programme

Initially reluctant to take on the health portfolio, Mr Serra has used this well funded ministry to enhance his profile.

Since 1998, he has cut bureaucracy, tackled malnutrition and run an acclaimed Aids treatment programme based on producing cheap replicas of patented medicines.

But critics say the recent outbreak of dengue fever in Rio de Janeiro was a damning indictment of his time in charge of the Health Ministry, and his rivals have used the crisis against him.

Brazilian analysts say President Cardoso appointed Mr Serra to the post to give the dry, balding economist a human face ahead of his presidential campaign.

That strategy appears to have failed and Mr Serra's expensive marketing team have been engaged in an uphill struggle.

Continuity or change?

A key problem for Mr Serra is whether to present himself as President Cardoso's heir or a bringer of fresh ideas.

Always regarded as a less committed free marketeer than other government economists, his programme offers what observers say is a confusing mix of continuity and change.

Jose Serra during a recent TV debate
Mr Serra's image has not had popular appeal

He is committed to the current International Monetary Fund-imposed inflation targets and honouring Brazil's external debt, but plans to intervene to help industry by reducing taxes and setting up a new Trade Ministry.

Mr Serra has also promised to create millions of jobs - probably the area the Cardoso government has failed most in - and will require public companies to hire young people and teach them a trade.

Thanks to a recent advertising blitz, Mr Serra has finally begun to rise in the polls and should make the run-off.

But he still has many problems to resolve if he is to fulfil his life-long ambition to become president.

This profile is from BBC Monitoring, which is based in Caversham in southern England and selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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