Dilma Rousseff set to win Brazil election. Did she really need Lula to play the gender card?
Dilma Rousseff, the handpicked successor of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, headed into today's Brazil election poised to beat centrist challenger, Jose Serra, according to polls.
Rio de Janeiro
As Brazilians flock to the polls today, the South American giant appears set to elect is first woman president.Skip to next paragraph
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Dilma Rousseff, the handpicked successor of wildly popular President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, headed into today's runoff vote a good 10 percentage points ahead of more centrist challenger, Jose Serra, according to polls.
Ms. Rousseff would be the third woman elected president of a South American country in just the past few years, following former President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who held office from 2006 to 2010, and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, who was elected in 2007.
But far from capitalizing on what analysts and recent polls say is a high receptivity to a woman president, the former Marxist rebel and obscure career bureaucrat has shied away from making her gender an issue in the campaign. Instead, she's allowed Mr. da Silva – known widely here simply as "Lula" – to play the gender card in a series of remarks intended to evoke either chivalry or predict voter sexism.
“I think this strategy here is a very male thing," says Arthur Ituassu, an adjunct professor of social communication at Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifícia Catholic University. "When [Rousseff] is pressed about something now, Lula says: ‘Oh c’mon, she’s a woman. Don’t put too much pressure on her.’ [It's designed] ... to remind people that in a male culture you should not put that much pressure on a female.”
He calls this strategy “intelligent,” adding that if Rousseff were to say those things, voters would see it as a sign of weakness.
So what has Lula said?
Lula plays the gender card
After Rousseff faced a tough interview in August on Brazil’s Jornal Nacional TV, Lula came to her rescue: “I hoped that for the fact that you [Rousseff] are a woman and a candidate, the interviewer would have a bit more courtesy.”
Weeks later, when an alleged scandal broke in the Brazilian media accusing members of Rousseff and Lula's Workers’ Party of hacking into tax records of the opposition, Lula again defended his candidate in chivalrous terms. "Trying to harm a woman of Dilma Rousseff's quality with lies and calumny is a crime against Brazil, and in particular, the Brazilian women," he said.