US president Barack Obama described him as the most popular man on earth, but after eight year’s in the job President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is about to step down. Known simply as Lula, the former shoeshine boy, lathe operator, and militant trade union leader rose to become Brazil’s first left leaning head of state. While, he may not have achieved the global celebrity of Nelson Mandela, Lula’s legacy is likely to linger long after this presidential poll.
With a stratospheric approval rating of 80 percent whoever replaces him has big shoes to fill. But, Lula’s handed picked successor Dilma Rousseff has benefited from riding on the outgoing president’s coat tails. Dubbed Brazil’s Iron Lady, because of her no-nonsense reputation whilst a civil servant, the former economist has held several senior posts in the government during the last seven years.A revolutionary during Brazil’s dictatorship, Rousseff was tortured and jailed by the military regime for 3 years. Immediately after her release she became active in politics. Despite that, she has never been elected, joining Lula’s Worker’s party in 2000 and rising rapidly up the ranks.
In 2005, she became the president’s chief of staff, overseeing an ambitious economic agenda to increase growth but also carrying out a series of popular anti poverty policies. The favourite to win, Lula’s support has clearly made it likely she will become Brazil’s first female president.
Running against her is social democrat and former mayor of Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, Jose Serra. Faced with Lula’s sky high popularity he has not attempted to attack the out-going president. To do so would arguably be a major strategic error. Instead he’s focused his campaign on the future, arguing Brazil could and should do better. A former health minister he also unsuccessfully ran against Lula in the 2002 presidential election. Like his rival Rouseff, he is not noted for his charisma but more for his political compietence.
The candidate seen as least likely to have any chance of victory is the Green party’s, Marina Silva. Former environment minister under Lula, she quit the government because of its environmental policies. But, even though she is expected to come third overall, her share of the vote could still have a real impact if the poll goes to a second round run off.