RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- It is the question that investors in Brazil have dreaded for months.
Less than 48 hours from a presidential election that could see the leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva taking power, the question of exactly which Lula -- as he is commonly known -- the country might get as president is a mystery.
Will it be Lula Light, the once outspoken union leader turned pragmatic politician, who will continue a policy of economic reform? Or has it been a ruse to win centrist votes? Will Lula, once in office, go back to being the Scary Socialist, returning to his denim roots and leaving the business suits in the closet?
Lula has for months been saying that he won't halt payments on Brazil's $260 billion debt, won't reverse privatizations carried out under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and won't bloat government spending.
But lately, Lula has also turned up rhetoric that would remind one of his polarizing past. He has blasted the unfairness of U.S. trade policies and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. He has lamented the role of the International Monetary Fund -- which in August extended Brazil a $30 billion loan -- in Latin America.
"I don't think that taking loans from the IMF or from whomever is going to give either Brazil or Argentina an economic exit," Lula told an Argentine television station a few weeks ago.
"I didn't validate the agreement President Cardoso signed with the IMF. The central government is going to use $6 billion and afterwards we will decide if we will take the rest or not."
Under the IMF package -- the largest in the fund's history -- Brazil must meet certain economic targets if it is to see some $24 billion that is available in 2003.
But that hinges on which Lula would take office.
Also in the balance is international credit and investment in Brazil. Indications are that the transition period between his election and his taking office on Jan. 1 will all but determine if foreign investors decide to abandon the country.
The keys will be Lula's choices for top economic positions and his economic policy, which remains clouded. Lula has said that if elected, he will not retain Central Bank President Arminio Fraga in his post.
Fraga, who once worked for George Soros, has spent this year working to get the IMF deal and agreements from major investment banks to keep their credit lines open to the country. Depending on which Lula takes office, all that could go for naught.
One Brazilian economist, who requested anonymity, highlighted his concerns about a Lula presidency.
"Lula, to make it short, is not convinced that inflation should be decreased. He is not convinced that fiscal surpluses are needed. He is not convinced that the FTAA could be a good opportunity rather than a threatening approach by the American monster," the economist said.
Yet, in the next breath, the same economist praises Lula's patriotism, his rise from humble roots and his earnest desire to help the people of Brazil.
Most Brazilians seem uncertain which Lula they'll get if he is elected. Is he the poor kid from a northeastern state who is proving that Brazil's shocking gap between rich and poor, those deemed fit to lead and those left in the street, is shrinking?
Or is he an anomaly, a guy who just doesn't know his place? Is he still the radical union leader who stood up to a military dictatorship, or is he rooted in day-to-day politics, raising the flag of the centrist majority, ready to work with big business?
Truth be told, no one -- not journalists, not the man on the street, not market analysts -- knows for sure which Lula is in store for them, should he win on the first round in Sunday's vote and take power.
Who is Lula? That nagging question could plant just enough doubt in voters' minds to give the government's hand-picked candidate -- Jose Serra -- the opportunity to meet Lula head-on in a second-round vote on Oct. 27.
Under Brazilian law, if no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round, or garners more votes than the other three candidates combined, a run-off is held.
Historically, Lula has failed at this stage. This is Lula's fourth run at the presidency. Each time he has fared extremely well in the opinion polls, only to falter at the election booth.
This year has been different -- his poll numbers have remained astronomical and voters simply appear ready for a change, as occurs in all democracies. But will it be enough to break the traditionally conservative vote of Brazil, a country that has never seen a working-class man as president?
The question of who is Lula as a leader and shaper of economic policy hangs over Brazil and will determine its future. Only the man himself can provide the answer -- and only if voters decide on Sunday to give him the opportunity to do so.