SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he might eventually run for president again, a revelation that shakes up Brazilian politics and could weaken his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff just two weeks before she takes power.
Lula, who will leave office on January 1 with a popularity rating above 80 percent thanks to Brazil’s economic boom, was forbidden by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term this year.
Asked in a TV interview that aired yesterday if he might run again in the future, Lula replied: “I can’t say no, because I’m still alive. I’m honorary president of a party, I’m a born politician, I built extraordinary political relationships.”
“We’re going to work for (Rousseff) to have a good government, and when the moment arrives, we’ll see what happens,” Lula told RedeTV. Although Lula, 65, has never ruled out running again, it was his most explicit statement to date that he could be a candidate again in 2014 or later. Lula qualified his statements, saying he was “afraid” they would be interpreted as a sign he would run again. At the very least, they mean that Rousseff will have to cope with the renewed perception — already held by many Brazilians — that she is Lula’s creation and merely a placeholder for four years until he returns.
“He is incapable of getting used to being an ex-president,” Jose Agripino, leader of the opposition DEM party in the Senate, told Reuters. “This foreshadows the difficult relationship he could have with the president-elect … I never heard of a president announcing his return as he says goodbye,” Agripino added.
Aides for Lula and Rousseff did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Questions about the power dynamic between Lula and Rousseff have been present ever since Lula plucked his former chief of staff from relative obscurity to be his chosen successor in October’s elections.
A left-leaning pragmatist in Lula’s mold, Rousseff has said she will not hesitate to seek her predecessor’s advice once she takes power. She has also yielded to his wishes on several picks for her incoming Cabinet, choosing several of his most prominent officials such as Finance Minister Guido Mantega to continue in their jobs.
There is recent precedent in Latin America of presidents plotting a return to power while still in office. In Argentina, Nestor Kirchner ceded power to his wife Cristina Fernandez after just one term, and was widely expected to seek office again in 2011 until he died suddenly in October.
Rousseff has insisted that she is neither a placeholder nor does she represent a de facto third term for Lula, though she would have never won the presidency without his support.
She has spent recent weeks mostly avoiding public comments, content to issue statements with her decisions such as ministerial appointments while Lula enjoys a victory lap of speeches and interviews celebrating his record of alleviating poverty and turning Brazil into an emerging world power.
Lula, meanwhile, has said he has no concrete plans once he departs office apart from a general desire to take Brazil’s recent formula for economic success and export it to other emerging markets, especially in Africa.