Lula wins in Brazil: 3 reasons that explain his return to power 12 years later

Lula wins in Brazil: 3 reasons that explain his return to power 12 years later

October 30, 2022, 10:59 PM

October 30, 2022, 10:59 PM


Leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva achieves a return to the Brazilian presidency that seemed unlikely a while ago, based on his own achievements and President Bolsonaro’s weaknesses.

Travel 55 months into the past and ask yourself a question: would you believe that Lula will be president of Brazil again?

That April 2018, Lula was beginning to serve a 12-year prison sentence for corruption that many thought was the end of his political career. He was 72 years old.

But the Brazilian Supreme Court annulled the conviction in 2021 due to errors in the process, and Lula won a presidential ballot this Sunday with 50.9% of the vote against 49.1% for the current president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Today, at 77 years old, the leftist Lula is preparing to return on January 1 to the position of president that he already held from 2003 to 2011.

There are three keys that explain why the leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) defeated the far-right Bolsonaro in the midst of great political polarization, according to experts.

1. Nostalgia for the Lula governments

The first reason for Lula’s victory is the yearning that a good part of Brazilians have for the times when he presided over Brazil, expressed with votes on Sunday.

Lula during his post-election speech.

For many Brazilians, Lula’s image embodies the memory of better times.

In the two consecutive terms of Lula, the country had an economic boom, with high prices of raw materials which produces More than 30 million people rose to the middle class with government social programs.

This contrasts with the economic crisis that Brazil experienced in recent years, when millions of Brazilians fell into poverty and misery.

The social situation worsened with the coronavirus pandemic that Bolsonaro described as a “little flu” and that killed more than 685,000 Brazilians.

Neither the lukewarm growth of the Brazilian economy in recent months, nor the financial aid distributed by the government in the middle of the campaign could erase the nostalgia for the Lula governments.

The pandemic exposed Brazil’s main social problems more clearly: today the most important problems are education, health, hunger; even more so than economic problems,” says Antonio Lavareda, a Brazilian political scientist who is an expert on electoral behavior.

“And with this social agenda, Lula has the advantage of being closely linked to the social policies of his two previous governments,” adds Lavareda in a dialogue with BBC Mundo.

In fact, an electoral pillar of Lula was the support of the poorest. According to polls prior to the ballot, about three out of five voters who earn up to two minimum wages favored him.

Throughout the campaign, the former president avoided giving details of his government plans. Instead, he sought to refresh the memory of his administration, which ended with an approval rating of over 80%.

“Possibly one of the best moments that this country experienced in recent decades was the time when I governed,” Lula said in his last debate with Bolsonaro on Friday.

And he asked that they vote for him to return to “make the country grow, generate employment, distribute income and that the people eat well again.”

Everything indicates that this strategy paid off.

2. The strong rejection of Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro is the first Brazilian president to lose a bid for re-election since the country’s constitution made that possible a quarter-century ago.

Jair Bolsonaro

Some of Lula’s support came from voters who wanted to prevent Bolsonaro from remaining in power.

This is also largely due to the high level of rejection generated by the current president.

Half (50%) of Brazilian voters said they would avoid voting for Bolsonaro in any way, according to a Datafolha survey published on Saturday.

The index remained close to that level throughout the campaign, above the also high rejection of Lula (46% according to the same survey).

“This election in Brazil became a great referendum on the Bolsonaro government,” says Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at the Rio de Janeiro State University, to BBC Mundo.

He adds that many voters of the winner on Sunday “may not be great admirers of Lula, the Workers’ Party or the left,” but instead saw in him “the only chance to defeat Bolsonaro.”

Criticism of the current president of Brazil goes far beyond his handling of the economy or his response to the pandemic.

Throughout his government, Bolsonaro was accused of encouraging the division of his country, assuming authoritarian attitudes and threatening other powers of the State.

And different analysts inside and outside Brazil warned that a second term for the current president could pose an even greater challenge to the democracy of the South American giant.

Magna Inácio, professor of political science at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, points out that in the midst of so many turbulences there was “a feeling of the voter for change” that put in the background the memory of the scandals that arose in the PT governments. .

“A combination of factors favored Lula’s candidacy and made the issue of corruption lose a certain centrality, stop being the most important factor for voters and make these other issues more relevant,” Inácio told BBC Mundo.

3. The conquest of the political center

Another key to Lula’s electoral victory was that he successfully contested the Brazilian political center throughout the campaign.

To do this, the leftist chose Geraldo Alckmin, a former center-right rival of his, whom he defeated in the 2006 elections, as his vice-presidential candidate.

Lula and Alckmin during the presidential campaign.

Facing this year’s elections, Lula allied himself electorally with his former rival Geraldo Alckmin.

After winning the first round on October 2 with 48.4% of the vote, Lula won the support of the centrist candidates who had been in third and fourth position: Simone Tebet and Ciro Gomes.

He also received the backing of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a 91-year-old Social Democrat who was Lula’s political rival in the past and is respected in intellectual circles.

All of this contributed to reducing the concerns that the prospect of a new leftist government in Brazil could generate in part of the country’s elite and in the financial market, says Santoro.

“This alliance that Lula put together in the 2022 elections is the largest and most diverse that Brazil has had since the movement for the return of democracy in the 1980s: there is the left, the liberals, part of the right,” he says.

Lula alluded to this in his first speech after being elected, stating that his “is the victory of an immense democratic movement that was formed on top of political parties, personal interests (and) ideologies, so that democracy came out winner”.

In a country so polarized and without a majority in Congress, a key challenge for Lula will be to maintain the support he had at the polls in the government.

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