The comeback of Lula, or the victory of hope

Luis Inacio Lula da Silva will be Brazil’s president again. This is a moment of relief for humanity, but the victory could not be less convincing.

The official results of the Brazilian elections: Lula – 50.9 per cent, Bolsonaro – 49.1 per cent. This is a difference of little over two million votes, with a total of over 120 million votes cast. Never before since the military junta ceased to exist in Brazil in 1985, has the difference between the candidates vying for the highest office been so slight.

The victorious Lula is already receiving congratulations from the ideologically close leaders of Latin American countries. Following his victory, almost all countries in the region, with only a few exceptions, have left- or centre-left governments. Joe Biden, too, congratulated Lula, indicating unequivocally that the US regards the elections as free and fair.

Only Jair Bolsonaro still has not spoken. According to the Brazilian tradition, the losing candidate should comment first on the result and acknowledge his defeat after the vote count is finished. Bolsonaro has still not done so, either in the traditional media or on his social media profiles. In June, Bolsonaro claimed that he was ready to “go to war” in case he lost the elections. It is not out of the question that his supporters will try to demonstrate in the streets, and the outgoing president is now considering options to challenge the outcome of the vote.

Left-wing voters, meanwhile, point out that on the day of the vote, the police and military openly supported Bolsonaro, a former army officer. Troops of army and police, under the pretext of exercises, obstructed movement in Brazilian states where Lula enjoys overwhelming support. Videos circulate in which uniformed men enter city and inter-city buses to pressure the passengers not to vote Lula.

As in the first round, Lula was supported by the poor coastal states and the central regions, more working-class or indigenous populations.

It was these voters who wanted a more social Brazil, in which the forests of the Amazon are protected rather than plundered. As he emphasised in the campaign,

the Amazon is not only needed by Brazil, but by the whole of humanity, struggling with the climate crisis.

The affluent, agrarian south came out strongly in favour of Bolsonaro’s vision of a conservative, hierarchical and capitalist Brazil.

The election campaign was dramatic – there were even cases of physical assaults by Bolsonaro supporters on Lula supporters. Fake news was the order of the day. The right wing claimed that Lula, as president, would close churches and also establish communism in the country and abolish private property. Neither of these has much to do with reality. Both as president and during the campaign, Lula never announced a change in the economic system. Greater redistribution of resources earned mainly through exports will not undermine capitalism as such. Nor would it hit the private banking sector, nor the corporate media. Lula has drawn comparisons to Biden, suggesting that if Bolsonaro is the Brazilian Trump, then he himself is a credible candidate from inside the system who will restore order. Not an anti-system or revolutionary.

For the massive crisis Brazil is facing, Lula has proposed increasing state support for the poorest. He has promised to implement nutrition programmes and erect public housing. Bolsonaro, if elected, intended to deregulate and privatise. Only in the final straight, during a TV debate with Lula, did he suggest that he could raise the minimum wage – to the equivalent of $265. It was an empty promise, however, because when Bolsonaro made it, Brazil’s draft budget had already been sent to parliament.

Workers, indigenous peoples and poor peasants watched the vote counting all night and are now celebrating Lula’s victory. However, it was not as convincing a victory as the polls showed just a few months ago. While the poorest strata of Brazilian society had no hesitation in supporting Lula, a section of small business or even gig employees living off a few unstable jobs often chose Bolsonaro.

Fifty per cent of Brazilians fear Lula’s return to power. This country is very polarised, very frustrated, poorer. Many people may question the fullness of this election. It is a very precarious moment and Lula will have to choose his words carefully,” political scientist Oliver Stuenkel of the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo told Al-Jazeera.

The president-elect seems to understand the problem perfectly.

In his first speech after the results were announced, he told reporters in Sao Paulo that he would be the president of all 215 million Brazilians, and that burying the dividing lines between citizens was one of his priorities. Neverthelss, in a country where social inequalities are so huge,political divisions with a class basis simply cannot be eliminated.

President Lula will co-govern with a parliament dominated by the right. So a simple return to the first period of Lula’s rule will not happen. The broad coalition of workers, trade unionists, local government moderates and environmentalists he has assembled will fight hard to push forward every progressive idea. And yet, this seems totally necessary not only for Brazilian citizens. Both example of social-oriented policies and living forests of Amazon are desperately needed for the survival of us all.

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