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Rousseff Elected Brazil's First Female President, Defeating Serra

Rousseff, who had never before run for political office, won 56 percent of the vote on Sunday, October 31, compared with 44 percent for Jose Serra, the former governor of Sao Paulo state. The former cabinet chief dedicated her victory to Brazil’s women, and choked with tears as she remembered the legacy left by her mentor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

She said her main goal is to eradicate poverty in Brazil while maintaining a lid on spending after being elected the country’s first female president.

 “We’ll care for our economy with complete responsibility,” Rousseff, 62, told supporters in Brasilia. “The Brazilian people don’t accept governments that spend at unsustainable levels and for that reason we will make every effort to improve public spending.”

Rousseff won by promising continuity with Lula, whose policies lifted 21 million Brazilians out of poverty since 2003 and created a record 15 million jobs. While lacking the charisma of her former boss, who leaves office Jan. 1 with a record 85 percent approval rating, she’ll be helped by the fastest economic growth in more than two decades.

“For the first time since the Second World War we’re going to have a political transition that will have little impact on economic activity,” Carlos Langoni, a former central bank president, said in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro.

Former Guerrilla

Rousseff is a former Marxist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured by Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. She joined Lula’s Workers’ Party, or PT for its Portuguese initials, on the eve of his election after serving as energy secretary in Rio Grande do Sul state. She served as Brazil’s energy minister and chairwoman of state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA before replacing PT stalwart Jose Dirceu as cabinet chief.

Rousseff’s candidacy was put in doubt when she announced in April 2009 that she was being treated for lymphoma. Five months later, her doctors pronounced her in “excellent health.”

Serra, who also battled Brazil’s dictatorship as a student leader, led Rousseff by as much as 35 percentage points in a Datafolha poll taken March 2008. The 68-year old former health minister’s campaign fell flat as he failed to present an economic program that could persuade voters to abandon Lula.

Rousseff, who did a masters degree in economics at Campinas University, crisscrossed Brazil with Lula over the past year. As president, she said she’ll “knock on his door” regularly for advice. Lula will bring Rousseff to the Group of 20 nations summit this month in South Korea, the president’s foreign policy adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia said.
 

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