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Brazil’s Lula on offensive to help protégé Rousseff win re-election

Nelson Almedia, AFP | Former Brazilian president Lula da Silva campaigns alongside incumbent Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo, August 2014.

Dilma Rousseff has stopped her tumble in opinion polls as she seeks a second term as Brazil’s president, even reversing the trend with only days left before the election, in part thanks to her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.


As if he himself were a candidate in the October 5 poll, the former president was mobbed in central Rio de Janeiro last week, and rallied crowds of supporters again on Wednesday, this time near the city of Sao Paulo.

Lula, as he is simply called by his countrymen, has also been stealing headlines as the Brazilian press closely scrutinizes his campaign for Rousseff, the left-wing incumbent of the ruling Worker’s Party (PT).

The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper eagerly revealed on September 13 that Lula’s attacks on Marina Silva, Rousseff’s main rival in the ballot, had reduced the contender representing Brazil’s opposition Socialist Party to tears.

“I can’t control what Lula says about me, but I don’t want to say anything bad about him,” the Folha quoted the allegedly weepy Silva as saying about a man who was also her political mentor for over two decades.

Silva, a former Lula minister who made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2010, dramatically surged in opinion polls last month, suddenly striking fear into the hearts of Rousseff’s supporters.

It would appear the immensely-popular Lula, who left office with approval ratings of over 80 percent after serving two consecutive terms, has stepped in to turn the tables around once more.

Stemming Silva’s tide

After beating throat cancer two years ago, Lula has energetically returned to the frontline of Brazilian politics, crisscrossing the huge nation to defend and praise the incumbent Rousseff in his characteristically raspy voice.

He has been telling voters to trust only Rousseff to continue the transformative work he launched when he became president for the first time in 2002. After more than 10 years of PT rule, and despite a slump in the country’s economy, Lula’s message still strikes a chord with voters.

The most recent opinion polls show Rousseff is currently enjoying a clear lead against Silva in the first round, and will likely follow in Lula`s footsteps as a two-term president.

The research firm Vox Populi revealed this week that the incumbent enjoyed 38 percent support compared to Silva’s 25 percent, with conservative candidate Aécio Neves running a distant third with 17 percent of votes.

After predicting she would lose in the second round earlier this month, opinion surveys now give Rousseff a slight edge in the October 23 run-off.

Silva initially sparked interest among voters from both the political left and right who are looking for an alternative to the PT, but an ambiguous political platform has made her an easy target for Rousseff and Neves, as well as for the outspoken Lula.

“Many analysts now think Rousseff could even win outright in the first round,” said Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, a Brazil expert at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) think tank.

Fighting for his candidate

According to Kourliandsky, it is no surprise Lula is entirely committed to re-electing Rousseff.

A leftist guerrilla in her youth, she was a relatively unknown minister until Lula picked her to succeed him in 2010.

“Lula has a personal connection to Rousseff, and he has a political responsibility toward the PT, which he founded,” Kourliandsky said in explaining the former president’s myriad campaign appearances.

“Politically, it’s all very consistent and logical. In fact, Brazilians would think it was strange if Lula wasn’t out there fighting for his candidate,” he added.

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