Former guerrilla becomes Brazil’s first woman president

Dilma Rousseff, a former fighter against Brazil’s U.S. supported military dictatorship, won a runoff election on Sunday October 31 and will become the first woman president in the huge South American nation’s history.  Rousseff’s victory will continue the policies of wildly popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, including the push for the horizontal integration of Latin American economies to make them less dependent on their relationships with the United States.

Rousseff, of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores) and candidate of the coalition “To Keep Brazil Moving Forward,” got 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Jose Serra of the Social Democratic Party of Brazil, the candidate of a right-center coalition.

Many had expected Rousseff to win on the first round held on October 3, but an unexpected surge for the candidate of the Green Party, Marina Silva, whose campaign stressed opposition to abortion, prevented this. Rousseff emphasized economic themes and the need to continue the prosperity and advances in social justice that Brazil has seen under Lula, and avoided the abortion issue.  

Left and center parties advanced in the gubernatorial elections also. As a result, the Lula-Rousseff left-center coalition will control 17 state executives to 10 for the right.

In the National Congress, the left-center “Lulista” coalition through which Rousseff will rule has been strengthened by this election cycle. Member parties picked up 37 seats in the lower house (Chamber of Deputies). Lula’s and Rousseff’s own Workers’ Party picked up five seats for a total of 88, making it the largest single party in the Chamber. The Socialist Party also picked up seven seats, for a total of 34, and the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) gained two seats for a total of 15. Their main centrist coalition partner, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), lost 10 seats which was more than made up for by a gain of 16 seats for another centrist party in the coalition, the Republican Party, with a total of 41.  

The right wing parties that supported Serra lost heavily, shedding a total of 44 seats, 13 of which were lost by Serra’s own Social Democratic Party of Brazil and another 22 by the right-wing Democratic Party. 

In total, Dilma will govern with a majority of 311 of the 513 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Within her own “Lulista” coalition, the left deputies will be more numerous than the centrists. It is possible she will have an easier time with the Chamber than Lula did, and will have to engage in fewer messy compromises to get legislation done.

In the Senate, the PT will have 15 seats, a gain of seven. Their centrist allies, the PMDB picked up three seats for a total of 20. The Lulista coalition will have a total of 51 seats to the opposition’s 25, with five seats being held by small parties that belong to neither coalition. The PC do Brazil will have two seats. The Lulistas, thus, picked up eight senate seats and the opposition lost 11.

This election has profound regional implications. Although Lula’s policies can only with reservations be considered social democratic, let alone socialist, Brazil under his stewardship has prospered and has made massive advances against poverty. With a population of more than 192 million, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and is the second biggest economy in the Americas after the United States. Thus, Brazil has begun to act as a counterweight to the hegemonic power of the United States in the hemisphere, and has been very active in promoting horizontal integration among the Latin American states. It is a key actor in the creation and development of the MERCOSUR and UNASUR organizations. It is not a member of the more radical Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA) but has been supportive. Brazil has strongly opposed U.S. policy on Cuba, and played an important role in the effort to return overthrown leftist president Manuel Zelaya of Honduras to power.

A right-wing government now rules Chile. The left wing coalition in Argentina lost its most recent parliamentary elections, and the sudden death of former President Nestor Kirchner has caused worry about what will happen in next year’s presidential elections. President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay has had serious health problems, and the right is pushing for him to step down. 

So the Rousseff victory in powerful and wealthy Brazil will be very welcome to the Latin American left and working class.

Photo: Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, courtesy Fotos/Ba (Flickr, cc by 2.0)


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.