By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has criticized the probable presidential candidate Aécio Neves while defending his successor’s record during a meeting with business leaders in Rio de Janeiro last Friday, October 18th. Quoted by Valor Econômico as “very eager to speak” during presidential debates, it is the latest in a series of public appearances that are fueling rumors that Dilma Rousseff’s predecessor could be planning to run in next year’s presidential election.
In remarks to the business interest group and politicians gathered at Rio’s Copacabana Palace, Lula lauded the Workers’ Party’s (PT) ten-year record in power, commending its “virtuous cycle of growth.” Brazil’s average annual growth was at 3.6 percent during Lula’s two terms.
Rousseff’s decision to cancel her state visit to the United States over allegations of a widespread espionage program that targeted Brazilian citizens was also applauded, as well as Rousseff herself. True to his colloquial, informal style, Lula told Valor magazine that he was proud of the fact that “she rubbed soap on Obama’s hands for reading her e-mail.”
Lula also attacked Rousseff’s contenders in next year’s presidential election, taking a swipe at the Social Democratic Party’s (PSDB) likely candidate, Senator Aécio Neves following his recent trip to the United States. “I know there are people who go out there and say that the Brazilian economy is not doing well, what other economy in the world is doing better than ours? There is none,” Lula said.
The string of recent public appearances and his return to campaigning in support of the Workers’ Party has sparked rumors that the former President himself might enter the race in 2014. The president made a return to public speaking in 2012, after waging a successful battle against larynx cancer. Lula was largely unscathed by the mensalão vote-buying scandal and subsequent trial that rocked the upper echelons of the PT in 2012.
“There is the possibility of a Lula return if Dilma isn’t doing well in the polls,” professor Octavio Amorim Neto from Rio de Janeiro’s Fundação Gétulio Vargas told The Rio Times. “This change would have to be explained to the voters because it would be like admitting there was a mistake [in Rousseff’s presidency]”. He added that given the elections were still months away, there was time to “explain the choice to the electorate.”
According to Neto, both the state of the economy, with lower-than-expected growth and sustained inflation, as well as the widespread protest movement that took millions of Brazilians to the streets over public expenditures on international sporting events and poor quality of public services in June, have made Dilma Rousseff’s re-election more “uncertain”. The President’s approval rating plummeted by 21 percent in the wake of the demonstrations, only to rise slightly after the U.S. espionage scandal.
Voter intention polls published by Datafolha this month, show that Rousseff is still leading the pack with 35 percent of support from the electorate. Marina Silva is at 26 percent, while Minas Gerais Senator Aécio Neves is at 13 percent. Pernambuco Governor and Brazilian Socialist Party’s (PSB) Eduardo Campos, received just three percent. The numbers were, however, collected before Silva joined the PSB.
Figures released at the beginning of October, however, indicated that Lula would be the only candidate capable of a decisive victory in the first round, garnering 51 percent of support among those polled.
In public, Lula has denied the rumors that he is planning to return to the presidency in 2014, vowing to help Rousseff win the election. “I’m going to travel Brazil as if I were the candidate,” Lula said at the end of September. “If [Rousseff] can’t go go to a party gathering on a specific day, I’ll go in her place. If she’s going to the South, I’ll go to the North.”