Dilma Rousseff, a 62-year-old grandmother who was jailed in the 1970s for guerrilla activities, was on 31.10.2010 elected Brazil’s first female president, succeeding her mentor and outgoing leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Rousseff beat her rival, former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra, in a runoff with 56 per cent of the vote, according to an official tally of 95 per cent of ballots.
The career civil servant, who served as Lula’s cabinet chief before leaving in April, 2010 to contest the election, will take charge of Latin America’s biggest country on January 1, 2011.
Lula, 65, 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. 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.
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.
She will also have to steer Brazil through tricky economic waters. 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 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.
At the same time, Rousseff — who was given a privileged upbringing by her Bulgarian immigrant father and Brazilian mother — does not enjoy the same solid support within the ruling Workers Party that Lula did, which could deal her legislative troubles ahead.
The dull campaign duelling between her and Serra gave some insight into what Brazilians might expect when she becomes head of state.
Both candidates stressed past policy successes but gave few details of new directions they wanted to pursue, and in some later televised debates exchanged insults and ignored the other’s arguments.
Serra, a one-time health minister who started out the favourite in the early days of campaigning, lost ground to Rousseff when Lula stepped in to give her credit for many of his administration’s achievements and rousing speeches on her behalf.
To fix her somewhat lumbering image, Rousseff underwent a cosmetic makeover to get elected, whitening her teeth, re-doing her hair into a helmet-like do, ditching glasses for contact lenses and botoxing her brow. The effect made her look younger — and much healthier than last year, when she wore a wig to cover the hair loss from chemotherapy to treat lymphatic cancer. Doctors said afterward she appeared to be cured.
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