Celebrating 58 years of his life and one year in office since he was elected as the first leftist leader in South America’s biggest country – Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s rating is sky-high in the personal popularity polls, but backing for his government is dipping.
Lula, as he is universally known, is technically yet to complete 365 days in power – Brazilian electoral rules meant that although he won on 27 October 2002, he formally entered office only on 1 January.
At that time, expectation was rampant and the celebratory atmosphere intoxicating. Crowds poured onto Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo where there is a tradition of celebrating World Cup victories - but not Presidential elections.
“This is unbelievable in the history of the last 100 years of this country, this is a revolution that is happening!” declared one breathless onlooker. “This means that any one of us can dream about becoming the President of Brazil!”
“I'm euphoric! It’s a day of glory, for partying, for everything!” shouted another.
Supporters of the president were
enthralled he came to power
“This is a historical moment. It's going to be an unforgettable government and it's what we need... morality in politics and ethics. With Lula as president... you can be sure,” said a young man with a child on his shoulders.
One year on, in exactly the same spot on a rainy and cold day in Sao Paulo, the traffic rolls by and no one is in a mood to stop and talk.
“Nothing has really changed. Bus and metro fares have gone up,” complained Anderson Mendez, selling bric-a-brac on a stall.
“Lula is better than Fernando Henrique [Cardoso, former president]. But that’s not difficult. The government should be putting more money into education,” said one of his customers, Luana Fernandes.
With President Lula's growing presence on the world stage after leading the G-22 into the world trade talks in Cancun, Mexico in September, it may come as a surprise that support for his government is at its lowest level – at 41%.
Two of his ministers have since been hit by a scandal involving using public funds for private trips. A key deputy, Fernando Gabeira, has resigned from the party over the mismanagement of the environment and the decision to allow the plantation of genetically modified soya.
Economic growth is stagnant. Unemployment has risen and stands at more than 20% in Sao Paulo.
Lula's personal popularity is at a high
but that of his government is down
The urgent issue of agrarian reform is yet to be resolved.
Last year, one of the leaders of the MST, the landless peasants' movement, said: “I'm going to tell you something that I wouldn't even tell the press here. If the Lula government wants to take land away from the landowners, it is possible that they will arm themselves. If we don't continue to struggle and to fight it would be a very big strategic and tactical error.”
Yet, the administration is only 10 months into its four-year term. It has a formidable and colourful ministerial team.
Chief of staff is Jose Dirceu, a man who trained rebels in Cuba, underwent plastic surgery to re-enter Brazil clandestinely during the military dictatorship, and lived under a false identity for 10 years.
Environment Minister Marina Silva was a former colleague of the murdered rubber-tapper Chico Mendez. Culture minister Gilberto Gil is a musical legend and former exile. President of the party Jose Genoino survived torture, which killed many of his fellow guerrillas who plotted an overthrow from deep in the Amazon.
Then there is Lula himself, a former shoeshine boy, metalworker and illegal strike leader. Together, it took them 22 years to form a party and take power.
"I always compare politics with marriage"
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
The government is likely to forge a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a further loan of $10 billion. The move is expected to antagonise their supporters' core membership. But a showdown is expected with the US over the future of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami on 19 November.
“I always compare politics with marriage,” Lula had cautioned on the night of his acceptance speech to the crowd below.
“When we are in love, when we want to get married we sit down with our girlfriends and we plan our dreams, discussing what we can do. We get married and we don’t always manage to do everything that we wanted to do as quickly as we had imagined,” he said.
While the honeymoon is certainly long over, most seem happy to settle into a domestic routine for now. There are a few, however, who already want to file for divorce.