Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff marks her first year in office today, riding 72 percent popularity with a steady grip on the reins of the world’s sixth-largest economy.
The 64-year-old economist and former urban guerrilla has developed a style quite different from that of her mentor, former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva: more managerial, more discreet and without Lula’s charisma.
“Her tougher style of a manager gives her the image of an ‘iron lady’ who tackles corruption and this is something that the traditional middle class likes,” said Ricardo Ribeiro, an analyst with the MCM consulting firm.
Her record high popularity — for a first year in office — is driven by her anti-corruption advocacy and Brazilians’ “satisfaction with the state of the economy,” said Renato Fonseca, head of research at the Brasilia-based National Industry Confederation.
Since being sworn in as the country’s first woman president in January last year, seven of her 38 ministers have quit, including six who were embroiled in allegations of graft and embezzlement.
Other key challenges facing Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla who battled the military dictatorship in the 1970’s and was jailed and tortured, include controlling her unruly coalition and ensuring continued economic growth.
In her first year, she enjoyed a kind of honeymoon as heir to Lula, who left office with 80 -percent popularity.
“Now the people may be more critical and demand more from the government, including reforms that have yet to be carried out, particularly if the [global economic] crisis affects Brazil and if in-fighting among her allies [in the government coalition] grows,” said Joao Augusto de Castro, an analyst with the BrazilPolitics think tank.
Managing an alliance of 10 traditionally unruly parties that each have their own interests will be no easy task next year, when elections are due in the country’s 5,000 municipalities.
Ranked by Forbes magazine as the world’s third-most powerful woman, Rousseff leads a country of 190 million that has now vaulted past Britain to become the world’s sixth-largest economic power.
Economic resilience has been a central theme of Rousseff’s administration, including measures to boost domestic industries and consumption.
In 2010 under Lula’s stewardship, the Brazilian economy grew 7.5 percent, but it is expected to have expand only 3 percent last year because of the impact of the global economic slowdown.
How it will fare this year is unclear, according to analysts.
However, Rousseff sounded an optimistic note, vowing that this year would be a “prosperous” year for Brazilians, “better than 2011.”
The government is banking on GDP growth of between 4 percent and 5 percent this year, and has vowed to equip the country with first-class infrastructure, health and education.
On the foreign policy front, Rousseff has shown more pragmatism than her predecessor, eschewing rhetoric and undertaking fewer trips abroad.
She has also given priority to relations with her South American neighbors, particularly Argentina and is seeking greater coordination on key global issues with fellow members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) club of emerging powers.
Last year, Rousseff hosted US President Barack Obama and she is due to visit the US early this year.