Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Saturday, 11 September 2010 12:00 UK

All to play for in Brazil's general election campaign

Campaign worker in Rio de Janeiro
A campaign worker cycles along Rio's Copacabana beach

By Will Grant
BBC News, Brazil

In October's general elections, Brazilians will vote to elect a successor to President Lula, whose efforts to help the poor have divided opinion in the country.

The dozens of waiters were dressed in jet-black shirts and trousers, perfectly polished black shoes and silver ties.

Right from the off, it was clear this was going to be a wedding reception to remember.

"Over here are beers, over there is champagne and this is a caipiroska," said my friend's father and the uncle of the bride, thrusting a potent cocktail into my hands.

For many rich Brazilians, the Lula presidency has cost them money and they are not happy about the prospect of several more years of the same

"It's a version of the classic Brazilian caipirinha but made with vodka rather cachasa," he explained, as the army of waiters flitted past with an array of amazing canapes.

On arriving at the party, someone had taken an educated guess at the cost of the event, and it ran to tens of thousands of reales.

This was the wealthy elite of Rio de Janeiro society, celebrating the joining together of two of their own.

'Lula very good'

As I weaved through the throng of well-heeled well-wishers for a breath of fresh air on the balcony, I came across a distinguished-looking black gentleman with a shock of white hair and a friendly smile.

President Lula (waving) at the Dona Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro
Lula's social programmes are said to benefit tens of millions of Brazilians

I was introduced and, in my somewhat halting Portuguese, we struck up a conversation.

Charles turned out to be one of the city's most renowned political scientists, and I could not resist grilling him a little about the election.

What did he make of the Lula presidency, now in its final few weeks?

His answer was emphatic: "Bom. Muito bom," he told me, explaining that Lula's social programmes had got to the heart of the poverty issues for many communities.

"I can't remember exactly how many families he's helped pull out of extreme poverty," Charles said, "but it must be in the millions. In Rio alone the changes have been significant."

But problems still exist.

As our conversation moved into discussing slavery in the region, I asked Charles if he thought it still existed in Brazil today.

"Definitely," came the reply, "especially in the sugar industry." But nevertheless, Charles said that the Lula government had been more "horizontal" than previous administrations, which I took to mean more egalitarian, more accessible.

'Lula too costly'

Of course not everyone at a wedding of the wealthy had such praise for the outgoing president nor his former chief-of-staff, the Workers' Party's presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff.

Presidential candidates Jose Serra and Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff and her main rival Jose Serra took part in a TV debate

"Ela e das Farc," was all one guest, a psychiatrist, had to say about the probable next leader of his country - making a somewhat unjust comparison between Ms Rousseff's radical past and the Colombian left-wing rebel group, the Farc.

As one of the younger guests told me, for many such rich Brazilians, the Lula presidency has cost them money and they are not happy about the prospect of several more years of the same.

As the night wore on, the food and drink continued to flow at an astonishing speed - perfectly cooked slices of beef on a bed of wild rice, dozens of cheeses and chocolate desserts so good they should probably be banned.

World Cup stars

The next day, moving rather gingerly from the caipiroskas, I went to the famous Maracana football stadium with one of the wedding guests and his friends.

Bebeto and Romario of Brazil during the 1994 World Cup
The former team-mates are standing for different parties

On the walk down to the match between local team Fluminense and rivals Sao Paulo, I saw election posters for two very familiar figures: Bebeto and Romario.

The stars of the 1994 World Cup are now running for office, one as a state deputy for the Democratic Workers' Party, the other as a federal representative of the Brazilian Socialist Party.

Whether this was what Charles meant about more horizontal government is hard to say.

But the two former footballers are running on a ticket of promising greater social inclusion through setting up healthcare centres, classrooms and children's sport programmes in some of Rio's poorest neighbourhoods.

Unique experience

Entering the Maracana is a spine-tingling moment, football fan or not.

The colossal home of the 1950 World Cup is currently being renovated for the tournament in 2014 so it can only hold around two-thirds of its 82,000 capacity.

Fans inside the Maracana stadium
The Maracana stadium has been described as "Brazil's temple of soccer"

Nevertheless, the experience is unique.

The sound is deafening, the colours of the tens of thousands of replica shirts mesmerising and the sheer passion of the fans is a sight which will stay with you for days afterwards.

Fans run down the bleachers handing out toilet rolls so we all have cheap streamers to hurl on to the pitch when the players emerge from the tunnel.

It was a terrific match too. An eventful 90 minutes ended in a 2-2 draw which included Portuguese star Deco scoring his first goal for his new outfit, Fluminense, a curling free-kick scored by Sao Paulo's goalkeeper and a Fluminense missed penalty in the dying minutes.

As we stream out after the game and I bid goodbye to my new friend before entering the metro, it strikes me that if Brazil's elections are half as exciting as their football, there could still be an interesting end to this campaign.

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