Dilma Rousseff Elected Brazil’s First Female President

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.

A former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured and imprisoned during Brazil's long dictatorship was elected Sunday as president of Latin America's biggest nation, a country in the midst of an economic and political rise. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho via Dilma Rousseff/Flickr

Brazil has elected Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old grandmother who was jailed in the 1970s for guerrilla activities, as its first female president on Sunday, reports the Daily Telegraph (UK).

Rousseff won 56 per cent of the valid votes, compared with 44 per cent for her opponent, former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra, with 99 per cent of all votes counted.

“I’m very happy. I want to thank all Brazilians for this moment and I promise to honour the trust they have shown me,” Ms Rousseff told reporters in the capital Brasilia in her first public words after the result was announced.

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, the hand-chosen candidate of wildly popular President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, won by cementing her image to Silva’s, whose policies she promised to continue.

The career civil servant, who served as Lula’s cabinet chief before leaving in April to contest the election, will take charge of Latin America’s biggest country on January 1st next year.

She will lead a nation on the rise, a country that will host the 2014 World Cup and that is expected to be the globe’s fifth-largest economy by the time it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. It has also recently discovered huge oil reserves off its coast.

65-year-old ‘Lula’ is required to step down then, having completed the maximum two consecutive terms permitted by law. He has not said what he plans to do. He is retiring with a popularity rating above 80 per cent and a high global profile.

“I’m very happy. I want to thank all Brazilians for this moment and I promise to honour the trust they have shown me,” Dilma Rousseff told reporters in the capital Brasilia in her first public words after the result was announced. Photo: Ichiro Guerra via Dilma Rousseff/Flickr

Despite Rousseff’s win, many voters don’t want “Lula,” as he is popularly known, to go away. “If Lula ran for president 10 times, I would vote for him 10 times,” said Marisa Santos, a 43-year-old selling her homemade jewelry on a Sao Paulo street. “I’m voting for Dilma, of course, but the truth is it will still be Lula who will lead us.”

Speculation was swirling that he might accept an international post, or stand by as an informal adviser to Rousseff as she runs the country, though he has downplayed those scenarios.

“There is no possibility of an ex-president participating in a government,” Lula said when he voted on Sao Paulo’s outskirts, where he started out as a factory metalworker and union leader.

Rousseff will have “to form a government in her image. I only hope that she does more than I did”, he said. Rousseff has none of Lula’s charisma or negotiating skills.

But she does have a such a reputation for fierce determination that Brazil’s media have nicknamed her the “Iron Lady”, in the mould of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

She developed her political spine when she started out as an active militant opposed to the 1964-1985 military dictatorship that ruled Brazil.

She was arrested in January 1970 and sentenced to six years in prison for belonging to a violent underground group responsible for murders and bank robberies.

After nearly three years behind bars, during which she said she was tortured by electric shocks, she was released at the end of 1972. She continued her political path and eventually joined Lula’s Workers Party in 1986.

In 2000, she divorced her second husband. Their daughter, Paula, made them grandparents in September. After Lula became president in 2002, he named Rousseff his energy minister and then, in 2005, his cabinet chief – a post analogous to prime minister.

But political analysts believe the new incumbent will find it difficult to emulate the international influence of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom US President Barack Obama once called "the most popular politician on earth". Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho via Dilma Rousseff/Flickr

Rousseff has vowed to maintain Lula’s policies, which over the past eight years have brought prosperity and financial stability to Brazil, and lifted 29 million people out of poverty.

Her biggest immediate challenges will be preparing the country to host the 2014 football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, both awarded under Lula’s deft lobbying.

Although Brazil’s economy is booming, expanding by more than seven per cent this year, the currency, the real, has soared so high against the U.S. dollar that the country’s vital export sector is starting to sweat.

Lula and other officials have blamed China and the United States for waging an “international currency war” by devaluing their own currencies to help their own exporters at the expense of other countries.

Ms Rousseff is expected to continue with the mix of market-friendly policies and social programmes to alleviate poverty that has characterised President Lula’s reign.

Rousseff says her political thinking has evolved drastically — from Marxism to pragmatic capitalism — but she remains proud of her radical roots.

“We fought and participated in a dream to build a better Brazil,” she said in an interview published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in 2005, one of the rare times she has spoken in detail about her militancy and torture endured.

“We learned a lot. We did a lot of nonsense, but that is not what characterizes us. What characterizes us is to have dared to want a better country.” [via Daily Telegraph (UK) and Yahoo! News]

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