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Rousseff More Popular Than Lula as Crisis Skirts By Brazil

Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s approval rating stood at a level higher than that of her popular predecessor after one year in office, as her handling of the global economic crisis draws praise, an opinion poll showed.

Support for Rousseff, who took office Jan. 1, climbed one percentage point from September to 72 percent, according to an Ibope poll published today and commissioned by the National Industry Confederation in Brasilia.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, her mentor and Brazil’s charismatic former president, had an approval rating of 66 percent at the end of his first year in office in 2003, when he cut spending to slow inflation that reached 17.2 percent.

“People approve of her handling of the crisis,” said Andre Cesar, a political analyst with Brasilia-based consultancy CAC. “The economic downturn hasn’t impacted the day-to-day life of the people yet.”

Rousseff today again cheered the central bank’s decision to cut interest rates to stimulate economic growth even as inflation hovers near a six-year high of 6.64 percent. Analysts surveyed by the central bank expect Latin America’s biggest economy to grow less than 3 percent this year, down from 7.5 percent in 2010, the fastest pace in two decades.

“Developed nations are practicing rates from zero to 0.5 percent,” Rousseff told reporters today in Brasilia. “We have margin to maneuver and they don’t.”

Inflation Fight

Approval of the government’s efforts to fight inflation rose to 39 percent from 38 percent in September, while 33 percent of those polled backed the central bank’s interest rate policy, up from 32 percent in September, the poll showed.

The strong approval rating could bolster Rousseff’s tough stance on corruption and help her approve key legislative proposals in Congress, said Ricardo Ribeiro, political analyst with MCM Consultants in Sao Paulo.

“She’ll have more capacity to resist pressure from political parties,” Ribeiro said in a telephone interview.

Rousseff is seeking approval from lawmakers for a plan to limit pension payments early next year. The bill would cut long-term government spending and could help increase the country’s credit rating, said Mauro Leos, a Latin America sovereign credit analyst for Moody’s Investors Service.

“The reform, if it is finally approved, can be billed as a credit positive event,” Leos said by telephone from New York.

House-Cleaning

Rousseff has quickly withdrawn support for several ministers accused of wrongdoing this year. Brazil’s Labor Minister last month became the sixth Cabinet member to resign since June amid corruption allegations.

The 64 year-old career civil servant also appointed fewer politicians and more technocrats to second-tier government positions. Allies in her broad ruling coalition, who often vie for lucrative government jobs, had initially balked at the move.

“It’s the president’s job to take tough measures,” Rousseff said in a year-end event with reporters today.

Rousseff, who never held an elected public post before, has rebuffed demands from her allies for spending earmarks, freezing 50 billion reais ($27 billion) in government outlays in February.

“She’s been a positive surprise,” said Ribeiro. “You can’t say it’s been a bad year for her politically.”

The Ibope poll surveyed 2,002 people nationwide from Dec. 2 to Dec. 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

To contact the reporters on this story: Maria Luiza Rabello in Brasilia Newsroom at mrabello@bloomberg.net; Raymond Colitt in Brasilia Newsroom at rcolitt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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