Continuity, With a Woman’s Face

In the countdown to her inauguration on Jan. 1, Brazilian President-elect Dilma Rousseff has completed her cabinet, which points to a government of continuity whose most novel aspect will be a greater female presence.

It was not easy for the president-elect to choose the 37 ministers in her cabinet while at the same time satisfying all of the allied political forces, confirming her loyalty to her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) — which will be the governing party for a third consecutive term — and giving continuity to the policies of an eight-year administration that is coming to an end with 80 percent support.

But true to her reputation as a pragmatic seasoned administrator, which she proved herself to be as chief of staff to her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rousseff found a way to strengthen her relationship with her party, avert a crisis with her allies, and tackle the pending tasks.

The result: a cabinet that includes nine women, several of whom were put in key positions, such as planning, social development and the environment. Although that number may seem small in other parts of the world, and is far from the one-third that was initially promised, it is three times the total number of women ministers in the Lula administration.

Thirteen of the ministers she appointed already formed part of Lula’s cabinet, such as Guido Mantega in the all-important finance ministry, and Antonio Palocci, a former finance minister who will now be Rousseff’s chief of staff — a powerful strategic decision-making position.

“Apparently continuity will be the name of the game,” Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a political analyst with the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s contemporary history research centre (CPDOC), told IPS. “There are no important changes in sight.

“Dilma’s stamp can be seen in the appointment of women to her cabinet. But from a political point of view, there are no major modifications,” he added.

Mauricio Santoro, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, partially concurred with that analysis.

He agreed that the biggest change is the greater female presence in the cabinet of Rousseff, the first woman to be elected president in South America’s giant. But he also stressed the importance of a change in role for some ministries, like the planning ministry.

Santoro told IPS that the planning ministry will now have control of large public works projects in Brazil, which were previously in the hands of the office of the chief of staff.

The strengthened planning ministry will be headed by a woman, Miriam Belchior, who has held different positions in Lula’s government.

Belchior, like Rousseff before her, will be responsible for key strategies like Lula’s Accelerated Growth Programme (PAC), involving infrastructure and social investments, which some analysts say is largely responsible for the high levels of popularity of the outgoing president.

The results of a survey published Wednesday by the Datafolha polling company reflect enthusiasm for the incoming president and her cabinet. A full 83 percent of respondents said Rousseff would do as good or better a job as Lula, while 73 percent said her government would be “good or excellent.”

“Why change the players when the game is won?” Lula has stated, using one of his frequent football metaphors.

His successor would seem to agree, as shown by her decisions in the area of foreign policy: although she is replacing Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, the man she appointed is his own deputy minister, Antonio Patriota.

In addition, she is keeping the president’s special adviser on international affairs, Marco Aurelio García, who has been present in all negotiations with neighbouring countries during the Lula administration.

Santoro only anticipates one change in the new government’s foreign policy: “Dilma has already referred to the need to modify Brazil’s international human rights policy, to take critical positions with respect to the question of women in Iran, for example,” he said.

Differences with the outgoing government will come from the context, say analysts and economists.

In an international economic climate less favourable than the one enjoyed during most of Lula’s two four-year terms, it will be more difficult to maintain the same levels of economic growth, which averaged 7.5 percent a year, and to continue to reduce unemployment and combat social inequality.

Under Lula, 30 million people, in this country of 198 million, were pulled out of poverty.

The debate now is whether Rousseff will have to make the unpopular move of cutting spending in areas that are key to promoting development and boosting social policies, like the PAC.

Others say the changes will be merely of style. Looming over the president-elect, known more for her effectiveness in getting things done than for her personality, will be the ghost of the charisma of her predecessor, who U.S. President Barack Obama called “the man.”

In the Complexo do Alemao “favelas” or shanty towns on the north side of Rio de Janeiro, Janaima Rosario, who works as a cook, lamented the end of Lula’s government, while patiently awaiting his arrival to inaugurate one of his government’s last public works projects.

“For poor people like us it’s really good that a president is coming, because it makes you feel valued,” she told IPS. “And the only president who has done that is Lula.”

Lattman-Weltman used his own football metaphor to describe the difference in style. “Dilma won’t play so much for the fans as for the team,” he said, predicting that her government will be “less visible” and more about “work on the inside, putting the house in order,” in line with Rousseff’s reputation as a competent administrator.

Another challenge will be to hold together the complex web of alliances in Congress that backed Rousseff in the elections and that ensures governability.

Some of the ten parties in that coalition were left unhappy with the distribution of cabinet posts. The PT will head 17 ministries. The next largest number, six, went to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). Eight members of the cabinet have no known political affiliation.

But with the 2011 municipal elections on the horizon, Rousseff and the PT will have to work hard to keep all of the members of the coalition happy.

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