Dilma Rousseff, Lula's preferred successor

Brazil's governing party, the Workers Party, is expected to nominate Dilma Roussef (pictured with President Lula da Silva) as its candidate for the October presidential election. President Lula has ruled out standing for a third term.


Brazil’s governing party, the Workers Party is officially nominated Dilma Rousseff as its candidate at a party convention this weekend.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose second term ends in December 2010, has ruled out standing for a third term. According to the country's constitution, presidents can only serve two terms in a row.

But the immensely popular Lula, who enjoys an 80 percent approval rating, has already unofficially appointed Rousseff as his preferred successor by calling her “the mother of the Workers Party”.

With Lula’s support, Rousseff is in the run to become the first female president of the world’s fourth-largest democracy. Jose Serra, the current governor of the eastern province of São Paolo, is likely to be her main opponent. An experienced politician, Sierra lost the 2002 elections to Lula da Silva but now enjoys a narrow lead over Rousseff in opinion polls.

Middle class leftist radical

Better known as the Iron Lady, Rousseff belongs to the generation of leftist radicals during the turbulent 1960s, when Brazil was ruled by a military government.

The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant lawyer and a Brazilian mother, Rousseff was raised in an upper-middle class household in the south-eastern city of Belo Horizonte. A committed socialist, she joined an armed militant force after the 1964 coup d’état against President João Goulart. The military dictatorship lasted until 1985 when Tancredo Neves was democratically elected president.

Her alleged participation in the 1965 armed robbery of a São Paulo governor’s safe has been highly controversial in Brazil. Although she denies ever participating in an armed attack, the Brazilian press has repeatedly reported her involvement in the now infamous robbery.

Her radical politics saw her arrested in 1970 by the military authorities. She was then held captive for three years and allegedly tortured with electrical shocks. Rousseff says she doesn’t regret her militant past.

A national idol

A former economist, Rousseff was first appointed as Lula’s energy minister in 2001. She then became his chief of staff in 2005 after her predecessor, José Dirceu, was accused of leading a plan to buy votes for Congress.

Over the past few years Rousseff has proved to be an efficient administrator. She has helped the president carry on social programmes against poverty and has overseen the investment of millions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

In 2007, Lula’s government created the Program for the Acceleration of Growth (PAC). With a budget of 290 billion dollars, the programme aims to improve the country’s infrastructure, including building airports, power stations, and a high-speed train linking São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Dousseff’s active role in attracting international investors and raising funds has earned her plaudits from several Brazilians.

Early last year, the 61-year-old politician was treated for lung cancer. The news of her illness and her recovery was closely followed by the Brazilian press and turned her into a national idol.

But the unassuming Brazilian politician lacks the charisma of her mentor, Lula, and has never won an election in the past. It remains to be seen if 2010 will bring the Iron Lady of Brazil her first election victory.

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