As expected, Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist revolutionary who survived torture by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, has been elected Brazil's first woman president. Her win by 56 per cent to the Social Democrat Jose Serra's 44 per cent is a landslide, but has been achieved only in a runoff and with energetic campaign support from the outgoing President, the legendary Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The campaign was ugly at times, with Ms Rousseff variously accused of being anti-Christian, of wanting to legalise abortion, and of being a ‘terrorist.' The new President will have an excellent chance to build on Lula's achievements, which include lifting 20 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty and raising another 30 million into the middle class. The economy has performed far better in Lula's two terms than in those of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and unemployment is at a record low of 6.2 per cent. Furthermore, the country's poorer regions voted overwhelmingly for Ms Rousseff. What is clear is that the allegations made against her were either baseless or could not be substantiated. In the end, they carried little credibility with the voters. As for the charge of ‘terrorism,' Ms Rousseff's youthful activism expressed her commitment to the establishment of democracy, and she has since had a highly successful career as a provincial and national civil servant, and then as Lula's chief of staff.
The President-elect intends to strengthen links with other emerging countries, including China, India, and Iran. Her country faces big challenges, particularly in improving its ramshackle education and health systems and physical infrastructure. But Ms Rousseff can expect backing from her own Workers' Party (PT), which holds most seats in the bicameral National Congress, and which together with its main ally, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), has a majority in both chambers. The PMDB may have reservations about the planned expansion of state activity, but the national cause is expected to override its ideological caution in this respect. Ms Rousseff's negotiating skills, about which there have been doubts, will be tested. Coordination with the PMDB will be essential if Brazil is to participate successfully in the new strategies being devised by Latin American states, such as Venezuela and Bolivia. These entail greater independence from the United States, as the Obama administration's policies towards its southern neighbours hardly differ from those of its predecessors. Ms Rousseff's election victory signifies the people's solid support for Lula's policies, or Lulismo.