Rousseff tearfully thanks Lula for Brazil poll win

BRASILIA, Oct 31, 2010 (AFP) - Dilma Rousseff, elected Brazil's first female president, tearfully thanked her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for her win Sunday, and vowed to uphold his legacy when she takes power in two months' time.

Rousseff, who served as Lula's cabinet chief before he handpicked her to succeed him in the runoff, choked up as she expressed her gratitude in a victory speech in Brasilia.

A supporter of Brazilian President elect Dilma Rousseff poses with a campaign banner celebrating her victory at Leme beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 31, 2010. AFP

"The happiness I feel today for my win is mixed with sadness for his departure," she said.

"The task of succeeding him is difficult and challenging. But I know I will honor this legacy and extend his work," she said.

"I will knock on his door often, and I know it will always be open."

Rousseff pledged to eradicate poverty at home, and lambasted the world's leading economies for devaluing their monies in a "currency war" that was threatening the exports of Brazil and other countries.

A 62-year-old economist by training and a career bureaucrat, Rousseff was virtually unknown to Brazilians before Lula thrust her into the spotlight alongside him this year.

Thanks to the his support, she quickly became the favorite in the race that pitted her against opposition rival Jose Serra, former state governor of Sao Paulo.

Although Lula's project to have her elected tottered in the October 3 first round, when she failed to win the expected majority needed to avert Sunday's runoff, it got back on track for the runoff.

Rousseff picked up 56 percent of the vote to Serra's 44 percent, according to an official tally of all ballots by the High Electoral Tribunal.

She will take charge of Latin America's biggest economy on January 1 next year, when Lula, 65, is required to step down, having completed the maximum two consecutive terms permitted by law.

Lula has not said what he plans to do. He is retiring with a popularity rating above 80 percent and a high global profile.

Speculation is swirling that he might accept an international post, or stand by as an informal advisor to Rousseff as she runs the country, though he has downplayed those scenarios.

"There is no possibility of an ex-president participating in a government," Lula said when he voted on Sao Paulo's outskirts, where he started out as a factory metalworker and union leader.

Rousseff will have "to form a government in her image. I only hope that she does more than I did," he said.

Rousseff has none of Lula's charisma or negotiating skills.

But she does have a such a reputation for fierce determination that Brazil's media have nicknamed her the "Iron Lady," in the mold of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

She developed her political spine when she started out as a militant opposed to the 1964-1985 military dictatorship that ruled Brazil -- an activity that earned her three years in prison from 1970.

After pursuing the political path and joining the Workers Party, Rousseff became energy minister when Lula took the presidency in 2002. In 2005 he promoted her to cabinet chief.

Her biggest challenge as president will be preparing the country to host the 2014 football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, both awarded under Lula's deft lobbying.

She will also have to steer Brazil through tricky economic waters.

Although Brazil's economy is booming, expanding by more than seven percent this year, the currency, the real, has soared so high against the dollar that the country's vital export sector is starting to sweat.

At the same time, Rousseff does not enjoy the same solid support within the ruling Workers Party that Lula did, which could deal her legislative troubles ahead.

Serra, taking the loss of his second bid for the presidency phlegmatically, said he "proudly" battled Rousseff for the post.

He also hinted his centrist opposition would not be acquiescing easily.

"To those of us imagining we're defeated: We have only started the real fight," he warned.

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