Brazil's PT backs Rousseff to end calls for Lula return

Key figures at Brazilian President Rousseff's Workers' Party (PT) national conference have attempted to quell dissent and end rumors former President Lula could run for president in her stead

Key figures at Brazilian President Rousseff's Workers' Party (PT) national conference have attempted to quell dissent and end rumors former President Lula could run for president in her stead

SAO PAULO – A national conference by the Brazilian Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) held Friday has attempted to put an end to rumors that the party's former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could run for president in this year's general election instead of incumbent president, and his protégé, Dilma Rousseff.

All signals from the party are that President Rousseff will be confirmed as the party's preferred candidate despite the rumors, and that Rousseff will give the event's key speech, political commentator Cristiana Lôbo told Globonews.

After calls for former president Lula to return to the helm, PT President Rui Falcão told the conference that the party's focus must be on securing Rousseff a second term in office:

“There are just six months until the election. From here on in, there is no task more important that achieving a second term for [Rousseff] at the polls,” Falcão said Friday, giving the event's opening speech.

Institutional relations minister Ricardo Berzoini said that the idea of Lula's returning to run for president on a PT ticket simply “doesn't exist”:

“This is speculation just as it was speculated that Lula was going to attempt to run for a third term [in 2010],” Berzoino was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying. 

According to Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, Rousseff is pondering giving her predecessor and mentor a key role in her re-election campaign, to placate those keen that Lula be part of the party's election campaign.

- “Volta, Lula!”

A recent campaign by a number of PT allies, held under the banner of “Volta, Lula!“ (“Come back, Lula!”), has called for the former president to be chosen as the party's presidential candidate. 

Lula served two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed under the Brazilian constitution, from 2003 to 2010 but could technically now return.

Rival presidential election hopeful, Marina Silva of the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro, PSB), said recently that Lula was PT's “silver bullet” but that it would only be used if the party truly believed Rousseff would not produce the results the party required.

Lula gave way to Rousseff to ensure PT remained at the helm of the country's coalition government, and left office with an approval rating of over 80 percent.

But he was helped in no small way by a booming Brazilian economy, fueled by high prices of commodities and a boom in consumer credit. In his last year in office, the economy grew 7.5 percent. 

When compared with economic growth of 2.3 percent in 2013 after just 1 percent in 2012, the “Volta, Lula!” campaign saw support swell. 

And new social programs during Lula's presidency, which continue to this day and brought 25-30 million people out of poverty, also assured him of a big vote from the poorer members of society.

- Sagging approval

Rousseff's approval rating, on the other hand, has slumped from an initial 60 percent in 2011 to less than 40 percent today.

Rival presidential pre-candidates have accused Rousseff of taking advantage of a speech on the eve of International Workers' Day, which she used to announce below-inflation tax rises and a boost to welfare programs, to boost her sagging approval rating.

A poll released this week gave Rousseff just 37 percent of the vote, down from 44 percent in February but still well ahead of her nearest rival, senator Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB),  who would garner 22 percent of the vote.

Many of those surveyed were still undecided or planned to spoil their compulsory vote, the survey suggested, but Rousseff could still win without the need for a runoff.

A significant proportion of respondents of another recent poll that simply asked those surveyed to name their preferred candidates gave Lula as an option, despite there being no sign that he was considering running for office.

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