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Updated: January 3, 2011 00:07 IST

Dilma Rousseff takes charge in Brazil

  • AFP
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PASSING THE BATON: Brazil´s outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Saturday.
PASSING THE BATON: Brazil´s outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Saturday.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff began her first full day in office on Sunday after pledging to build on the policies of her hugely popular predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The 63-year-old divorced grandmother, who was Mr. Lula's former Cabinet chief, assumed the presidency on Saturday. She is a left-wing former guerrilla who was tortured in prison in the 1970s for opposing the then-military government.

A 1952 Rolls-Royce convertible took her along streets lined with an estimated 70,000 well-wishers. She then embraced Mr. Lula at the presidential palace, receiving from him the green-and-gold official sash before giving her first speech to the nation. “I will look after the most vulnerable. I will govern for all Brazilians,” she said in the televised address from the palace's balcony after the rain stopped.

Mr. Lula himself pointedly left her alone in the spotlight, save for a brief heartfelt hug.

Required to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms permitted under Brazil's constitution, Mr. Lula has not said what he plans to do in retirement.

In her swearing-in speech before Brazil's Congress, Ms. Rousseff repeatedly paid homage to her mentor, calling him a “great man” and vowing to maintain his legacy, notably in reducing poverty and promoting economic prosperity. “The most determined struggle will be to eradicate extreme poverty,” she said, declaring: “We can be a more developed and fairer country.”

On the face of it, Ms. Rousseff is taking over an economy in great shape. Brazil's economy grew an enviable 7.6 per cent in 2010, it enjoys recently discovered oil finds that could make it a big-league exporter, it has won a significant role on the world stage, and it is preparing to host the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympics. But challenges loom. Growth is expected to slide to 4.5 per cent in 2011, inflation is well above the government target at an estimated 5.9 per cent and rising, and an aim to cut public debt from 42 per cent to 30 per cent is likely to meet resistance, not least because Brazil desperately needs more and better infrastructure. Ms. Rousseff has much to do to fill the big shoes of the previous President, whose shadow will likely fall over most, if not all, of her mandate. A former trade union leader, Mr. Lula's genuine man-of-the-people demeanour translated into an 87-per-cent popularity rating by the end of his government. Ms. Rousseff, in contrast, has never before held elected office.

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