RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva turned from president into campaign cheerleader on Friday, firing up the first big election rally in support of his chosen presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff.
Lula, who cannot run for a third straight term, set the tone for the October 3 election by urging voters in Rio de Janeiro to elect Rousseff to secure the economic and social gains that Latin America’s biggest country has made in recent years.
The hugely popular Lula will play a high-profile role in the campaign for his relatively unknown former chief of staff, and he has come under criticism for breaking rules that prohibit public officials from using state resources to campaign. Friday evening‘s rally in a rain-swept Rio was their first official campaign appearance together.
“I’m not a man with two faces,” the former metalworker and veteran election campaigner said, accusing the media of trying to prevent him from campaigning.
“I know her and I tell you that my comrade Dilma who was chief of staff is ready to be president.”
Organizers had expected tens of thousands at the rally, but a storm reduced the number to several thousand, many wearing red shirts in support of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Less than three months ahead of the election in Latin America’s largest economy, Rousseff has erased an earlier double-digit poll deficit and is running neck-and-neck with former Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra in most recent surveys.
The former leftist militant is apparently reaping the benefits of a booming economy and the huge popularity of Lula and is most analysts’ favourite to win as her name recognition grows in the coming months.
Rousseff, who lacks Lula’s charisma, is expected to base her campaign heavily on promising continuity of Lula’s mix of market-friendly policies and generous social programmes.
“I can’t go wrong because I am carrying the sacred legend of transformation and hope of this country that raised its head and can now look at everyone,” Rousseff told the rally.
Lula was clearly the main draw on Friday night. Many supporters trooped away after he spoke without waiting to hear Rousseff.
“I don’t necessarily think she’ll be a good president,” 30-year-old student Rodrigo Correa said of Rousseff as he left the rally.