Dilma Rousseff became on Sunday Brazil’s first woman president and the first former guerrilla to reach the highest post in the country. In spite of being described by her mentor president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as “a first class (electoral campaign) warrior and excellent manager,” Ms Rousseff faces phenomenal challenges, not least the legacy of who handpicked her.
Precisely she will be succeeding the most popular president in recent Brazilian history who will be stepping down next January first with 80% approval; four out of five Brazilians love the charismatic leader, after eight years in office: an enviable record for any politician anywhere in the world.
Therefore, how will the Lula-Dilma dynamics work as of next January? Will he become her main advisor? Will it be perceived that Lula da Silva still has a significant share of power or will they have to break politically to give the new leader the solid strength of an autonomous presidency wiping aside all weakness doubts?
Another challenge is the fact that Rousseff has only been with the Workers Party for ten years and some consider her an ‘outsider’. Before and during two decades she belonged to the Labor Democratic Party headed by another outstanding Brazilian leader Leonel Brizola.
It was Lula who legitimized Rousseff naming her Mines and Energy minister and later cabinet chief, plus having chosen her as incumbent presidential candidate ignoring primaries: something which only a leader as Lula with his standing and following could validate. Here also the next president will have to prove she’s her own woman.
The ruling Workers Party also has its radicals that were overshadowed by Lula da Silva’s moderation and solid support in public opinion polls. At the end of 2009 they released a Human Rights program which proposed several issues highly controversial but very dear to the historic claims of the party founders: investigation of crimes committed during the last Brazilian military dictatorship (1964/1985); ‘social control’ of the media; decriminalization of abortion and land distribution.
An explosive cocktail that immediately triggered reactions from the Church, farmers, the media and the resignation of the Defense minister and the three forces commanders (Army, Navy and Air Force), which were not accepted.
Dilma will face the challenge of acting with moderation as her mentor or going ahead with the reforms long demanded by the radicals in the party in a very conservative Brazil.
Dilma must also find a way to co-habit with its largest and main political ally the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB. The winning ticket has as vice-president PMDB Michel Temer, an experienced lawmaker and negotiator, belonging to a party known for its pragmatism and considered one of the guarantors of governance in Brazil under the formula which is known as “coalition presidentialism”. Besides, in 2002 PMDB voted against Lula in support of José Serra.
PMDB has the largest number of governors, mayors, senators and is only second to the Workers party in lower house representatives. By not competing for the presidency but rather accepting Lula’s criteria has been most politically profitable for the PMDB. However it must be seen how it reacts to a government that most probably will not be as popular as under Lula.
Alliance negotiations will be highly sensitive to Dilma’s popularity and evolution of the Brazilian economy. Vice-president Temer somehow anticipated the situation a few months ago when he specifically talked about “sharing” power with the next government.
Furthermore Dilma must keep up with the expectations of the millions that have emerged from poverty or climbed to the middle class (over a third of the population).
According to a recent survey, 19% are planning to buy a home in the next six months; 9.5 million are thinking in a new or second hand car in the next 12 months, while 84% believe they will be in a better economic situation in 12 months time and 50% that they are already living better than the year before. Frustrating or even eroding such high expectations will have its consequences.
Lula has also been a formidable player in international politics (“the most popular politician in the world”, according to President Obama), making Brazil’s weight felt in world forums and discussions.
All of which undoubtedly will demand much work, dedication, wit and imposing respect: particularly true when some of the Sao Paulo media headlines described her Sunday historic success as “Victory for Lula.”