SÃO PAULO – Key figures in Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT) have rallied around President Dilma Rousseff at the party’s national conference on Friday in an attempt to put an end to rumours that the party’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could run as the party’s presidential candidate in this year’s general elections.
UPDATE: Rousseff officially confirmed as party’s candidate, and Lula tells conference there is “no other candidate” but warns party “won’t have easy campaign”.
All signals from the party are that President Rousseff will be confirmed as the party’s preferred candidate despite the rumours, and that Rousseff will give the event’s key speech.
After calls by some for former president Lula to return to the helm, PT President Rui Falcão told the conference that the party’s focus must be on securing Rousseff a second term in office:
“There are just six months until the election. From here on in, there is no task more important that achieving a second term for [Rousseff] at the polls,” Falcão said Friday, giving the event’s opening speech.
Institutional relations minister Ricardo Berzoini said that the idea of Lula’s returning to run for president on a PT ticket simply “doesn’t exist”:
“This is speculation just as it was speculated that Lula was going to attempt to run for a third term [in 2010],” Berzoino was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying.
PT is expected to officialise Rousseff as its official presidential candidate at an event in June, but Falcão said this should be brought forward to end potential dissent.
According to Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, Rousseff is pondering giving her predecessor and mentor a key role in her re-election campaign, to placate those keen that Lula be part of the party’s election campaign.
Lula has stated on numerous occasions that he will not run and will support Rousseff.
A recent campaign by a number of PT allies, held under the banner of “Volta, Lula!” (“Come back, Lula!”), has called for the former president to be chosen as the party’s presidential candidate.
Lula served two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed under the Brazilian constitution, from 2003 to 2010 but could technically now return.
Rival presidential election hopeful Marina Silva, now of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), said recently that Lula was PT’s “silver bullet” but that it would only be used if the party truly believed Rousseff would not produce the results the party required.
Lula gave way to Rousseff, his protégée, to ensure PT remained at the helm of the country’s coalition government, and left office with an approval rating of over 80 percent.
But he was helped in no small way by a booming Brazilian economy, fuelled by high prices of commodities and a boom in consumer credit. In his last year in office, the economy grew 7.5%.
When compared with economic growth of 2.3% in 2013 after just 1.0% in 2012, the “Volta, Lula!” campaign saw support swell.
And new social programmes during Lula’s presidency, which continue to this day and brought 25-30 million people out of poverty, also assured him of a big vote from those members of society who have benefited.
Rousseff’s approval rating, on the other hand, has slumped from an initial 60% in 2011 to less than 40% today.
Rival presidential pre-candidates have accused Rousseff of taking advantage of a speech on the eve of International Workers’ Day, which she used to announce below-inflation tax rises and a boost to welfare programs, to boost her sagging approval rating.
A poll released this week gave Rousseff just 37% of the vote, down from 44% in February but still well ahead of her nearest rival, senator Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), who would garner 22% of the vote.
Many of those surveyed were still undecided or planned to spoil their compulsory vote, the survey suggested, but Rousseff could still win without the need for a runoff.
A significant proportion of respondents of another recent poll that simply asked those surveyed to name their preferred candidates gave Lula as an option, despite there being no sign that he was considering running for office.