Posted by: changholt | February 2, 2011

Brazil’s new president has large shoes to fill

DILMA Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla, takes over as Brazil’s president this week, inheriting one of the world’s hottest economies but facing the task of living up to the success of her charismatic mentor.

Under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil transformed in eight years from a crisis-prone underperformer to an economic powerhouse with millions of new middle-class consumers and a growing say in world affairs.

The rise of the Latin American giant should continue but with a very different leadership style after Ms Rousseff, Mr Lula da Silva’s former chief-of-staff and hand-picked successor, is sworn in at Saturday’s inauguration ceremony in the capital, Brasilia.

Following a president who leaves office with approval ratings near 90% and has hinted at a comeback in 2014, Ms Rousseff could be overshadowed by Mr Lula da Silva and his achievements from the start.

“Her challenge is to occupy this enormous space left by Lula,” said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Cent re in Washington.

But supporters say her early steps — pledging continuity with the Lula da Silva boom years while making clear that she is very much her own woman — have shown the potential for her to be a strong president in her own right.

Ms Rousseff, who will be the first woman to lead Brazil, is a pragmatist and has surrounded herself with moderate ministers — many of them from Mr Lula da Silva’s cabinet — and tapped respected technocrats for positions such as central bank head.

She showed a flair for the inspirational in her election victory speech in October by pledging to eradicate the remaining poverty in Brazil, then quickly reassured investors by vowing to cut spending — to the irritation of Mr Lula da Silva.

Ms Rousseff may change tack in foreign policy by putting more emphasis on human rights and moving to repair relations with the US that soured over Mr Lula da Silva’s embracing of Iran.

Above all, though, success will hinge on her ability to keep Latin America’s biggest economy on a roll and delivering the sharp rises in spending power that have lifted nearly 30-million people into the middle class since 2003.

“If she can continue to do that, people will embrace her. If the economy falters, she will have problems,” said James Green, a professor of Brazilian studies at Brown University.

One of the biggest changes in style and substance may come on the foreign stage, where Mr Lula da Silva used the full force of his personality to push Brazil’s role as a leader of the developing world on issues like trade and the environment. In his parting speech he lambasted the US for failing to see Latin America’s more powerful role in the world.

Despite the strong mandate that Ms Rousseff and the ruling coalition received in the October elections, her agenda in Congress will likely be hostage to the vested interests that prevented Mr Lula da Silva from passing structural, politically painful reforms.

Ms Rousseff has already signalled that she will leave the bloated pension and social security system untouched and focus instead on easing the bottlenecks that prevent Brazil from growing faster for longer like fellow emerging giants China and India.

Lacking the charm that helped Mr Lula da Silva hold the unruly coalition together, Ms Rousseff faces a struggle to achieve even that. The relatively modest goal of simplifying the sclerotic tax system — likely to be her first major legislative priority — may not be completed in her first year, said Erasto Almeida of US-based consultancy Eurasia Group.

Ms Rousseff, who resisted Brazil’s military dictatorship and was tortured in jail in the 1970s, said Brazil was wrong to have abstained from a United Nations resolution condemning Iran’s death-by-stoning policy. Sapa-AP

via BusinessDay – Brazil’s new president has large shoes to fill.

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