President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took the unusual step last week of announcing his intention to take leave of absence in 2010 to concentrate on running his successor’s election campaign.
Coming three years before the event, the news seemed to confirm a widely-held belief that Mr Lula da Silva is obsessed with keeping ”Lulismo” in power but bored by the actual business of government.
That may be so. But the president also has a firm eye on the present. His own leftwing PT and its bigger coalition partner, the catch-all PMDB, are locked in a power struggle in Congress. At stake are dozens of public sector jobs being used by the government as bargaining chips to secure the support of both.
PMDB senators, unhappy that too many plum jobs were going to the PT, recently fired a shot across the government’s bows by rejecting a bill to create a new ministry (and several hundred jobs for the boys). Last week’s announcement was the president’s response. There is no obvious candidate to succeed him in 2010’s election. The only certainty – if the president continues to ride high in opinion polls – is that Mr Lula da Silva can make or break any candidate. If the PMDB wants to be part of the winning ticket, he was saying, it had better fall into line.
Of course Mr Lula da Silva could run again. A third term would be against the constitution but, as former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso showed, constitutions are there for changing. Mr Lula da Silva might even prefer a switch from the presidential to the parliamentary system. Then he could take a leaf from Vladimir Putin’s book and succeed himself.