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Brazil looks to first female president after Lula era

posted 1 Nov 2010, 13:15 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 1 Nov 2010, 13:17 ]

Brazilians react to the election of Dilma Rousseff as she prepares to take over the South American giant with the task of keeping the booming nation on a prosperous path.

BRASILIA, BRAZIL (NOVEMBER 1, 2010)  REUTERS - Brazilians woke up on Monday (November 1) looking to a future where a woman will be occupying the country's top government post for the first time in history.

President-elect Dilma Rousseff prepares to take over an economy that is booming but faces several threats including heavy government spending, an overvalued currency and creaking infrastructure.

The 62-year-old former leftist militant, who based her campaign on extending the legacy of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won her first election on Sunday (October 31) as Brazilians voted overwhelmingly for continuity.

She clinched a runoff victory against opposition's Jose Serra after falling short of the majority of votes needed on the elections' first round a month ago.

Some Brazilians were expecting a different outcome.

"I thought that (Jose) Serra would have been elected, but everyone has their point of view. I have my opinion, but he didn't get elected this time," said Brasilia resident Jorivau Martins.

"Serra tried but the government was very good and everyone is expecting Dilma (Rousseff) to do the same," another capital resident, Eliane Godoi, said.

The career civil servant must now form her transition team and cabinet as she emerges from the long shadow of Lula, who rose to become one of Brazil's most popular politicians in history and strongly campaigned for her during the presidential race.

In her victory speech, Rousseff paid homage to Lula, pledging to extend what she dubbed a "new era of prosperity."

She also set out twin goals for her rule -- eradicating poverty while maintaining Brazil's hard-won economic stability.

"The task of succeeding him (referring to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) is difficult and challenging, but I will know how to honour that legacy. I will know how to consolidate and advance on his work. I learned with him that when you govern with the public interest and the most needy in mind, an immense force rises up from the people that helps us govern," she said following the announcement of results.

In a sign of the changing of the guard, Lula laid low after Rousseff's victory on Sunday, leaving her to bask in the moment she became the first woman elected to lead Brazil.

During Lula's two consecutive terms, some 20 million Brazilians were lifted from poverty and the country became one of the world's hottest emerging markets and a darling of investors.

Political analyst Ricardo Ismael said Rousseff had the task of keeping up with Lula's economic legacy, which was her greatest campaign promise.

"She has no other option than to give continuity to Lula's government and this is the key word that sums up the support that her candidacy received on the elections' two rounds, especially concerning the conduction of the economy -- the economy must continue to create jobs, continue to raise the population's incomes and continue to increase consumption," he said.

Ismael added that Rousseff's past as a leftist militant pointed she would continue with most of Lula's foreign policies.

"Considering her background, I don't think she will deviate from trying to seek a stronger relationship with countries like that -- ideologically more connected with the left, and even countries with an anti-American speech, I mean, against a north-American hegemony," he said.

Lula has kept close ties with authoritarian or populist governments like Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, dedicating much of his final year in office to trying to iron out conflicts between the West and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over Iran's nuclear plans.

Rousseff, who will be sworn in on January 1, handily won Sunday's runoff election with 56 percent of the vote, while Serra, from the centrist PSDB party, took 44 percent.