Skip to main content

Former Marxist guerrilla vying to be Brazil's first female president

From Shasta Darlington, CNN
Click to play
Brazilians to elect new president
  • Dilma Rousseff has the support of popular outgoing President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva
  • There are nine candidates for president of Brazil
  • Brazil is now the world's eighth largest economy

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (CNN) -- Brazil's general election Sunday spans across all levels of government, from the presidency to local offices. But the spotlight will be on the presidential race, with a former Marxist guerrilla positioned to become Brazil's first female president.

Dilma Rousseff is the hand-picked successor of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who has an 80 percent approval rating. The outgoing president has steered Brazil into a major global economy, and his choice for the next president is influencing voters.

"For president, I'm voting for Dilma," said Jose Mario, a resident of Rio de Janiero. "It's not even that much about Dilma, but because it was President Lula's request."

In Rio de Janeiro's favelas, or slums, residents credit Lula da Silva for helping more than 20 million people climb out of poverty during the president's two terms.

Brazil now has the world's eighth largest economy, which has grown 7 percent a year on the back of a commodities boom and market-friendly policies. Some Brazilians say they think Rousseff will continue Lula da Silva's efforts and help the poor.

There are nine candidates for president of Brazil, but frontrunners include Rousseff, José Serra, Marina Silva and Plinio de Arruda Sampaio. According to the latest polls, Rousseff is the favorite.

Until she was tapped by Lula da Silva, Rousseff was the president's little-known energy minister and, later, his chief of staff.

She is also known for being a former Marxist guerrilla, under the military dictatorship more than three decades ago.

Rousseff is betting she can create more jobs and improve schools and roads, bolstered by a major offshore oil discovery.

Brazil will get more worldwide attention in the coming years, hosting events such as the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

But many Brazilians and investors still need to be convinced that Rousseff has the political strength to drive through fiscal reform and major infrastructure projects needed to keep the economy booming.

CNN's Umaro Djau contributed to this report.