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Friday, November 5, 2010

Lula wins "third" mandate but is it for "presidente" or "presidenta"?

The blogger in the World Heritage Portuguese
town of Oporto the day Dilma Rousseff was
elected. Even the Brazilian community
in Portugal voted for her in similar
proportions as back home
When Ronald Reagan ended his second term with high approval ratings, since the Constitution prevented him for running for a third one ("an infringement on your right to choose your leader" the Gipper told he American public) he campaigned for his heir, his vice-president George H. Bush, who duly won the election. It was said then that was Reagan's third electoral victory. This week's victory by Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's first female president, can be considered even more so as Lula's victory (he is on record as saying during the campaign that "my enemies [from the PSDB party] will not defeat me" as if he were on the ticket - which, in some fashion, he was). It was his astonishingly high approval ratings (over 80% after eight years in office, something Obama can only dream of this week that saw him repudiated in the mid-term elections) that allowed him to pick his successor. Dilma (according to Brazilian usage, celebrities, especially politicians, are referred to by their first name) had never run for office, let alone won any, and although a competent administrator, was not a political force in her own right - unlike neighboring Argentina's Cristina Fernandez who, before succeeding her husband as president, was a powerful senator.  It is a testament to Lula's popularity and charisma that, first, he imposed Dilma on his Workers' Party as their official candidate and, then, campaigned relentlessly for the Brazilian people to vote for her. But Brazilians are more politically mature than one might think, and they forced Dilma through a runoff before giving her the presidency. And her share of the vote (56%) was much less than Lula got in 2006 (60%) itself slightly less than he got in 2002 (61%). The trend is unmistakable: it reminds me of the Socialists in Spain in the 1980's/90's. Under Gonzalez they had an overwhelming majority which shrank and shrank until they became a minority having to resort to an alliance with regional parties (from Catalonia and the Basque country) to remain in power before the opposition finally got a majority of the vote.

My prediction: in 2014, provided the economy is still purring along (when I look at the 80% real estate price increase in Rio de Janeiro's posh neighborhoods, I wonder about a bubble in the making) and the World Cup is not a disaster, Dilma may scrape through with just over 50% in a second round of voting. 2018 will see the opposition come back to power, never a bad thing after almost 20 years of same-party rule.

In the meantime a first controversy awaits Dilma: will she be known as "Presidente" (the masculine form in Portuguese) o "Presidenta" (the female version)? (Also, I have yet to see her referred to as "Dona Dilma" the usual form for Brazilian first ladies from the days of the monarchy until now.) One of Brazil's most respected newspapers has already made up its mind: the Folha de São Paulo  has decided it will be "A presidente", but Dilma in her first speech after her victory referred to herself as "presidenta."  (In France we might have a similar issue in 2012 if a woman runs for president, many people, especially conservatives, insisting that a female leader is "Madame le président"; in the Hispanic world the feminine is used: Cristina Fernandez in Argentina is known as "la presidenta" as Michelle Bachelet was in Chile.) When linguistics and politics meet, things rarely remain dull.

UPDATE: The following picture (from May 2012 in O Globo daily) summarizes the previous issue quite well.

The event organizers gave her the title she wants:
the feminine "presidentA" but "O Globo" has decided
it is the masculine "presidentE" that matters
(The blogger has a second home in Rio de Janeiro where he spends part of the year. When the blogger is not in residence, his penthouse can be rented. Check out the Airbnb listing, also available on TripAdvisor/Flipkey and Homeaway. You can also rent it straight from the blogger)

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