Dilma Rousseff has stopped her erosion in opinion polls as she seeks a second term as Brazil’s president, even reversing the trend with only days left before the election, greatly thanks to her predecessor and mentor Lula da Silva.
As if he himself were a candidate in the October 5 poll, the former president was mobbed in central Rio de Janeiro last week, and rallied crowds of supporters again on Wednesday and Thursday, this time near the city of Sao Paulo.
Lula, as he is simply called by his countrymen, has also been stealing headlines as the Brazilian press closely scrutinizes his campaign for Rousseff, the incumbent of the ruling Worker’s Party (PT).
The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper eagerly revealed on September 13 that Lula’s attacks on Marina Silva, Rousseff’s main rival in the ballot, had reduced the contender representing Brazil’s opposition Socialist Party to tears.
“I can’t control what Lula says about me, but I don’t want to say anything bad about him,” the Folha quoted the allegedly weepy Silva as saying about a man who was also her political mentor for over two decades.
Silva, a former Lula da Silva minister who made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2010, dramatically surged in opinion polls last month, suddenly striking fear into the hearts of Rousseff’s supporters.
It would appear the immensely-popular Lula da Silva, who left office with approval ratings of over 80% after serving two consecutive terms, has stepped in to turn the tables around once more.
After beating throat cancer two years ago, Lula da Silva has energetically returned to the frontline of Brazilian politics, crisscrossing the huge nation to defend and praise the incumbent Rousseff in his characteristically raspy voice.
He has been telling voters to trust only Rousseff to continue the transformative work he launched when he became president for the first time in 2002. After more than 10 years of PT rule, and despite a slump in Brazil's economy, Lula da Silva’s message still strikes a chord with voters.
The most recent opinion polls show Rousseff is currently enjoying a clear lead against Silva in the first round, and a neck to neck finish in a runoff. The research firm Vox Populi revealed this week that the incumbent enjoyed 38% support compared to Silva’s 25%, with conservative candidate Aecio Neves running a distant third with 17% of votes.
Silva initially sparked interest among voters from both the political left and right who are looking for an alternative to the PT, but an ambiguous political platform has made her an easy target for Rousseff and Neves, as well as for the outspoken Lula.
“Many analysts now think Rousseff could even win outright in the first round,” said Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, a Brazil expert at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) think tank.
According to Kourliandsky, it is no surprise Lula da Silva is entirely committed to re-electing Rousseff. A leftist guerrilla in her youth, she was a relatively unknown minister until Lula da Silva picked her to succeed him in 2010.
“Lula has a personal connection to Rousseff, and he has a political responsibility toward the PT, which he founded,” Kourliandsky said in explaining the former president’s myriad campaign appearances.