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Economy

After Dilma's Reelection, The Lula Question Looms

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff edged out reelection, thanks in part to her charismatic predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. What role will he seek in her second term? Is he preparing to run in 2018?

The duo in 2012
The duo in 2012
Valdo Cruz

BRASILIA — Victory came late in the game, at the very end of the second half. It was a hard-fought victory indeed for incumbent President Dilma Roussef, and it came after a roller coaster Sunday during which her Workers’ Party fears of a defeat felt very real.

The reelection of Rousseff, 66, who outlasted her center-right opponent Aécio Neves, marked the lowest level of support of a leader of the party since 2002. The president preached in her victory speech in favor of “unity, dialogue and change,” a gesture of reconciliation after a particularly vitriolic campaign.

Those promised values of unity and dialogue were two virtues scantily present during Rousseff's first term, even though political allies, trade unionists and entrepreneurs all declared out loud that it was what they wanted from her.

She managed to win a second term despite the fact that much of the Brazilian electorate had voiced the desire for change, and nearly half the country disapproved of Rousseff’s tenure. The center-left president will need to attend to these wishes, which are also shared by a large part of her own party’s electorate.

A comeback kid?

One question however remains: Just how will Rousseff relaunch her presidency? Will she do things her way now that she can claim that victory was hers, and hers alone? Or will she grow even more dependent on her predecessor Lula da Silva, who entered in the homestretch body and soul?

With an eye on maintaining the Workers’ Party project in power, the former president wishes to have a bigger influence on his protege's second term. Brazilian law prevents a president from running for a third consecutive term in office. Meaning that nothing would stop Lula — who served from 2003 to 2011 — from deciding to be a candidate four years from now, to succeed his own successor.

Still, Rousseff should have more freedom to run her government’s project this time around. She did not pay much attention to Lula’s wishes in her first term, so why would she change that now? Maybe she will look to leave a lasting legacy of her own.

The problem for Rousseff is that, contrary to what happened when her political godfather was in the driver's seat, her second term now requires economic adjustments in the face of a looming recession. In Lula’s first term, he was more constrained by economic factors that were beyond his control, and was only able to fully pursue his agenda in the second term.

Rousseff on the other hand was already able to put her mark on her first four years in office. It worked in some areas, but resulted in high inflation and weak growth. She now will need to make fundamental changes to her policy recipe if she wants to avoid jeopardizing her best achievements, including Brazil's low rate of unemployment.

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