SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he might eventually run for president again, a revelation that shakes up Brazilian politics and could weaken his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff just two weeks before she takes power.
Lula, who will leave office on January 1 with a popularity rating above 80 percent thanks to Brazil’s economic boom, was forbidden by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term this year.
Asked in a TV interview that aired on Monday if he might run again in the future, Lula replied: “I can’t say no, because I’m still alive. I’m honorary president of a party, I’m a born politician, I built extraordinary political relationships.”
“We’re going to work for her (Rousseff) to have a good government, and when the moment arrives, we’ll see what happens,” Lula told RedeTV.
Although Lula, 65, has never ruled out running again, it was his most explicit statement to date that he could be a candidate again in 2014 or later.
Lula qualified his statements, saying he was “afraid” they would be interpreted as a sign he would run again.
At the very least, they mean that Rousseff will have to cope with the renewed perception — already held by many Brazilians — that she is merely a placeholder for four years until Lula returns.
The comments “obviously don’t help her, although stepping out from his shadow was always going to be her biggest challenge,” said Alexandre Barros, a political consultant in Brasilia.
Questions about the power dynamic between Lula and Rousseff have been present ever since Lula plucked his former chief of staff from relative obscurity to be his chosen successor in October’s elections.
A left-leaning pragmatist in Lula’s mould, Rousseff has said she will not hesitate to seek her predecessor’s advice once she takes power. She has also yielded to his wishes on several picks for her incoming Cabinet, choosing several of his most prominent officials such as Finance Minister Guido Mantega to continue in their jobs.
Rousseff has spent the post-election period mostly avoiding public comments, content to issue statements with her decisions such as ministerial appointments while Lula enjoys a victory lap of speeches and interviews celebrating his record of alleviating poverty and turning Brazil into an emerging world power.
The timing of Lula’s latest comments could prove inopportune, however. Rousseff is currently in delicate talks to put together a coalition in Congress to pass proposed budget cuts and reforms while convincing legislators that she, not Lula, will be the ultimate authority come January.
Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s most influential newspapers, plastered the interview across its front page and website on Monday, declaring: “Lula admits he will be a candidate again for the presidency.”
Seemingly aware his statements would cause a stir, Lula told the interviewer: “I’m a little afraid that tomorrow somebody will see your interview and say that Lula said he could be a candidate.”
Still, he continued to discuss the possibility, naming several possible future presidential candidates from the opposition and his own coalition, including Rousseff.
“There will be no shortage of candidates,” he said. “It’s really hard to get a feel for it right now.”
Additional reporting by Raymond Colitt, Editing by Todd Eastham and Kieran Murray