Dilma Rousseff elected first female president of Brazil
Brazil’s ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff (pictured) has defeated Social Democrat Jose Serra in Brazil’s run-off poll to become the first female president of Latin America’s largest country.
As anticipated, Brazil’s ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff beat her rival, a former Sao Paulo state governor, in Sunday’s second round of the presidential election to become the first woman ever to lead Latin American’s most powerful economy.
Rousseff, who has promised to continue the economic policies of her predecessor, President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, picked up almost 56 percent of the vote.
Sunday’s presidential contest pit Rousseff of the Workers' Party (PT) against Jose Serra of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). Serra, a career politician, lost the 2002 presidential run-off against Lula.
Rousseff’s victory was largely owed to the endorsement of the popular outgoing president, who hand-picked Rousseff, 62, to succeed him, and is leaving the presidency in January with an approval rating above 80 percent.
Some 135 million people were eligible to vote, which is compulsory in Brazil. Among them, 15 million voters also cast ballots in run-off elections for governor in eight states and the federal district of Brasilia.
The election was the fifth democratic presidential poll since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.
Abortion hounds candidates
An economist and former energy minister, Rousseff had never run for elected office and was considered an obscure figure until Lula picked her as his successor.
Despite the former president’s endorsement, she fell short of the 50 percent majority needed in the October 3 first round when Serra defied predictions of an electoral routing.
Evangelical Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who came third in the first round, siphoned votes away from Rousseff. It was widely speculated that evangelical Christians punished Rousseff for not clearly expressing her opinion on abortion.
“Abortion became a deciding theme in the election,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Dominic Phillips, adding that Pope Benedict XVI even “ordered bishops to tell Catholics to vote for the candidate that would be most against abortion.”
Despite Serra’s hopes that Silva would endorse him for the second round, the Green Party politician stayed neutral. Analysts say Serra proved to be the less charismatic candidate on the campaign trail and he was unable to overcome the popular support for the Workers Party following years of massive economic growth.
Although she hails from a privileged background, Rousseff leans left. The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and Brazilian mother, Rousseff enjoyed a comfortable childhood. But after joining the underground student resistance against the military dictatorship that came to power in 1964, she was imprisoned for three years and tortured.
A trained economist, she was serving as the secretary of energy and mining for the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul when Lula picked her in 2002 to head the country’s vital energy ministry.
She has been touted as the driving force behind Brazil’s National Growth Acceleration Programme, a massive infrastructure and housing project designed to boost the country’s economy.
The shadow of Lula
Outgoing president Lula did not seek to make constitutional changes to extend his two-term limit, a trend that has haunted Latin American politics over the last decade. The Workers’ Party has not said what, if any, role the popular outgoing president will play in Rousseff’s government.
Lula’s legacy, however, will certainly weigh heavily on his successor’s mandate. President Lula piloted Brazil through a wave of prosperity that saw 30 million people rise out of poverty and reduced inequality in South America’s largest country.
Brazil’s economy was sidelined by the 2008 global recession, but economists predict the country will return to a booming 7 percent GDP growth in 2010. The country now counts 280 billion dollars in reserves and is expected to create two million jobs this year.
Some observers however, remain sceptical about Brazil’s 21st century economic miracle, and think Rousseff faces difficult times ahead.
“The growth that Lula has known in his presidency, I think it’s coming to an end now, and [Rousseff] is going to have to pick up the leftovers of Lula’s time,” said Radio France International journalist Philip Turle.
Brazil’s cash boom owes much to the favourable trade relationship with China, with has demonstrated a huge demand for Brazilian commodities. According to Turle, the rising value of the country’s national currency will challenge previous level of prosperity.
“The currency has shot up, which makes exports expensive for the country. The economy is going to go through a very difficult period,” Turle warns.