Brazil's Lula Considers Next Steps

By Downie, Andrew | The Christian Science Monitor, November 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Brazil's Lula Considers Next Steps


Downie, Andrew, The Christian Science Monitor


Brazil voters elected Dilma Rousseff in hopes of extending the policies of popular outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. After handing over the sash of office Jan. 1, what will Lula do next?

Now that Dilma Rousseff has been elected as Brazil's new president, the big question in voters' minds is not only what she will do in her four-year term but what will become of her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

He has been the face of a rising Brazil for the past decade, emerging as one of the most popular presidents in history. Sensible economic policies, a commodities boom that brought in huge amounts of foreign currency, and an assistance program that lifted millions out of poverty have translated into approval ratings hovering at 80 percent today. In two terms in office, Mr. da Silva, known as Lula, carved a role for himself in diplomatic circles as Brazil became an important player in trade and climate-change talks.

In fact, Ms. Rousseff's victory was easy because Brazilians back Lula's policies and want them to continue. For many it is hard to imagine a political landscape without him in the foreground. As bestselling newsmagazine Veja asked in a cover story: 'He'll leave the Presidency. But will the presidency leave him?'

Everyone in Brazil wants to know: What will Lula do next? "As a political fact, it's causing great curiosity," says Ricardo Caldas, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.

A looming presence

Lula's presence threatens to loom over Rousseff's presidency, just as his charisma has overshadowed all other political players over the last eight years - something that won't change overnight, analysts say. He will continue to wield considerable influence inside the government and the Workers' Party (PT).

"[Dilma] has little control over the PT, and Lula is the principal leader of the party," says Ricardo Ribeiro, a political analyst at MCM Political Consultants in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "If Lula decides he wants one thing and Dilma wants another, she can't challenge him. If there is a disagreement, Lula will have the final word."

Rousseff was elected with 56 percent of the vote in the Oct. 31 runoff election, thanks to the support of Lula, who handpicked her as his successor. It is support that many say Rousseff could not have done without since she had never before run for political office and she has no political base, having only joined the PT in 2001. She lacks Lula's charm and magnetism. Though respected for her courage, intellect, and administrative talents, she is also seen as authoritarian and gruff. …

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