Thursday, September 30th 2004 - 21:00 UTC

Lula da Silva sees his popularity ratings rise.

The popularity of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, continued to recover in September, raising hopes for his Workers' party (PT) in Sunday's municipal elections.

The president's approval rating rose to 41.3%, up from 38.2% in August and an all-time low of 29.4% in July, according to a Sensus poll published this week by the National Transport Confederation.

The opinion survey comes ahead of Sunday's elections for mayor and town assemblies in 5,563 municipalities. While the PT hopes to benefit from poll improvement, it has been cautious not to bill the election as a plebiscite on the president.

While the overall state of the economy and the president's popularity influence voters, municipal elections have been traditionally driven by local issues, political analyst's caution.

The Sensus poll showed that only 15% of those questioned would definitely vote for a candidate backed by Mr Lula da Silva.

As the country's largest city and a PT stronghold, São Paulo weighs heavily in the October 3 poll. There, Marta Suplicy, the incumbent PT mayor, marginally trails José Serra, of the social democratic PSDB, in opinion surveys. Mr Serra lost to Mr Lula da Silva in the 2002 presidential race.

Candidates for mayor who fail to win more than 50% of the vote face the runner-up candidate in a second round on October 31.

Mr Lula da Silva's improvement in the polls comes amid strong economic recovery, estimated at 4.3% growth this year.

São Paulo's unemployment rate fell from 18.5% in July to 18.3%5 in August, according to data published on Tuesday - the lowest level since Mr Lula da Silva took power in January of last year

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