Brazil Elects First Female President

BY Larisa Epatko  November 1, 2010 at 3:35 PM EST


Brazil’s president-elect Dilma Rousseff. Photo by Jefferson Bernardes/AFP/Getty Images

Dilma Rousseff won Brazil’s presidential runoff on Sunday, making her the first female president of South America’s largest and most populous country. She campaigned on — and now faces the challenges of — improving Brazil’s infrastructure, education and health care.

Rousseff, a former Marxist rebel who later became outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s energy minister and chief of staff, bested the opposition candidate, Sao Paulo Gov. Jose Serra, by receiving 56 percent of the vote to his 44 percent.

“Rousseff’s victory represents an endorsement of the signature achievements of Lula’s two terms in office: job creation and government social programs that have moved nearly 30 million people into the lower-middle class,” wrote Julia Sweig in an analysis for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rousseff’s ruling Workers Party and its allies also won a majority of seats in the lower house and Senate, which will help her pass legislative proposals that are widely expected to continue Lula’s policies.

However, infrastructure that is straining under Brazil’s economic advancements poses a challenge. “The roads, ports, airports are not able to keep up with the economy, so there are huge delays for exports and imports because they just don’t have the capacity to deal with the quantities,” said Solana Pyne, a GlobalPost reporter in Rio de Janeiro.

Education also is a problem. Rousseff has promised to take some of the money from oil reserves found off the coast and invest it in education, including paying teachers more and raising its standards, said Pyne.

Rousseff also has said she wants to address the over-stressed and under-performing public health care system, which has forced many to seek private health insurance.

And although it was not a defining element of her campaign, Rousseff said in her victory speech in the capital, Brasilia, that she would work to advance gender equity, reported the BBC.

“I am here stating my first post-election commitment: to honor Brazilian women so that this fact — unprecedented until now — becomes something normal and can be repeated and expanded in companies, public institutions, and organizations that are representative of our entire society,” she said.

“There is a big problem with gender equity here in terms of women still making on average far less than men,” said Pyne. “While they have a woman president, women’s involvement in Congress is very low.”

One of her first tasks will be reaching out to the opposition after an acrimonious campaign, added Pyne.

“She’s kind of in a position now to reach out and say ‘I want to talk to everybody’ and try to smooth over some of these divisions to make it easier for her to govern,” Pyne said.

Rousseff will be inaugurated on Jan. 1. Reuters looks at some possible members of her cabinet.

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