SAO PAULO, Brazil — Dilma Rousseff, a former rebel and longtime bureaucrat who has never held elective political office, will become Brazil's first female president following her victory Sunday in a runoff election.
With 93 percent of the votes counted, Rousseff led challenger Jose Serra of the Social Democratic Party by 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent, an insurmountable lead.
Analysts agreed that it wasn't Workers' Party candidate Rousseff's record, campaign proposals or oratory that provided her with the margin of victory, which was smaller than most voter preference polls had predicted. What made the difference was the strong backing of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, enormously popular for his leadership over eight years of economic growth, social gains and Brazil's emergence as a player on the global stage.
Lula's stewardship lifted millions out of poverty and expanded the middle class. Additionally, under Lula's watch, Brazil became a global force, being named host of the 2016 Olympics and being credited for making pharmaceuticals more affordable to developing countries.
That made a difference to Sao Paulo resident Flavia Maria de Almeida. Just after voting on Sunday in the dilapidated part of historic downtown, the 35-year-old English professor said she was not convinced of Rousseff's leadership skills. In fact, she said, "I do not like her." But she still voted for Rousseff. "I believe in their philosophy. Lula cares about people and social problems. He has a good heart."
Rousseff, a 62-year-old reserved intellectual and opera aficionado who enjoys concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, will become Latin America's fourth female president in recent years.
She won largely because Brazilians are delighted with the state of their country and with Lula, whose popularity registered 82 percent this week.
"Lula is the genuine popular leader," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. In addition to Lula's importance to the working class, "businesses are not complaining. Bankers are not complaining. And Rousseff is the beneficiary of this," Sotero said.