By Jaylan Boyle, Contributing Reporter

In the second of our stories profiling the key players in next year’s Presidential election, we concentrate on São Paulo State Governor Jose Serra, the likely choice of the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party).

Governor of São Paulo and Presidential hopeful Jose Serra, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agencia Brasil.
Governor of São Paulo and Presidential hopeful Jose Serra, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agencia Brasil.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Although Jose Serra cannot yet officially be declared a challenger to the office President Lula da Silva will vacate in 2010, it seems so close to a done deal as to be barely worth mentioning. That impression can only have been reinforced among commentators recently as a slight but inexorable erosion of support for Brazil’s ruling party continues. As of late May he was leading opinion polls ahead of Dilma Rousseff, President Lula’s successor of choice, by thirty percentage points.

It seems that both leading candidates Rousseff and Serra suffer from the same political malaise of relative anonymity, at least when compared to the shining light of Luis Inacio da Silva. Proving that politics is largely a cult of personality, Serra’s distinguished career as the head of Brazil’s Health Ministry was not enough to prevent voters from labeling him “testy” and a poor speaker when he came significantly second in the 2002 presidential election.

It is certain that economics is a platform on which Mr. Serra can’t necessarily gain traction against Dilma Rousseff. Brazil’s economy has grown under President Lula’s stewardship, and signs are looking positive for an early recovery from the current worldwide woes.

Most pundits are saying that Mr. Serra would be well advised, now that Brazilians are more comfortable regarding economic stability, to play the health card, where he has a proven track record. He has gained popularity as a sort of Robin Hood figure, taking on global drug makers and introducing generic AIDS drugs in defiance of copyright.

The swine flu epidemic couldn’t have come at a better time for Serra, given the government’s perceived mishandling of the issue. All in all, given the state of Brazil’s infrastructure, health is an issue that always tops the pile when polling time arrives.

Mr. Serra’s interest in politics began at a young age; he served as President of the National Student Union (UNE), while a fourth year engineering student in São Paulo, a post that would later cause him to flee the country after the military took control in 1964. Pursuing an array of academic disciplines while exiled in Chile, Argentina and the U.S., he returned after the 1978 amnesty and was appointed São Paulo’s State Secretary for Economics and Planning in 1982.

In 1994 he was voted Congressman of São Paulo by a large margin, and after serving as Federal Minister, tried for the Presidency in 2002. Upon defeat, he won the Mayoralty of São Paulo in 2004 on his third attempt. Resigning his post in 2006, he ran for and was duly elected to the office of Governor of São Paulo.

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