In the run-up to Brazil’s presidential election, many feared that a tight result would be contested and spell a death sentence for Latin America’s largest democracy.
However, the worst fears have so far been averted, despite a victory by center-left former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva over current right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro and persistent protests of some Bolsonaro supporters throughout the country.
The president’s allies quickly recognized Lula’s victory, the armed forces stayed in their barracks and the leaders of other countries offered their support to the leader of the Workers’ Party. Thus, they cut short the idea of anything resembling the insurrection of January 6, 2021 in the United States Capitol, one of the great ghosts that ran through Brazil these days.
“All of Bolsonaro’s escape valves were closed,” said Brian Winter, a Brazil expert and president of the New York-based Council of the Americas. house when leaving”.
Although Bolsonaro refused to congratulate Lulausually the country’s institutions seem to have resisted.
Bolsonaro issued a video message on Wednesday calling for an end to the protests by his supporters. “I know you’re upset. I’m just as sad and upset as you are. But we have to keep a cool head,” he said. “The closure of routes in Brazil endangers the right of people to come and go,” he added.
The challenges of Lula da Silva
That leaves an even more worrisome challenge: how will Lula, a 77-year-old former union leader, returning to the post he left in 2010 after two terms, unite a deeply divided countrystraighten out a faltering economy and meet the huge expectations unleashed by his return.
One thing is clear: if anyone can do it, it is the charismatic Lula, whose political skills are admired even by his detractors.
“That’s what we need, someone who can not only address inequality, but also inspire our emotions and ideas,” said Marcelo Neri, director of the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s social policy center and former Minister of Strategic Affairs during the Dilma administration. Rousseff.
In many ways, the conservative movement that Bolsonaro helped ignite — and himself — came out stronger after the election, Winter said. His allies were elected governors in several key states, and the Liberal Party, to which he belongs, won a majority in Congress, which rReduces Lula’s ability to push his agenda after a decade-long economic slump that has left millions of Brazilians hungrier than when Lula left office in 2010.
politics and religion
In addition, Brazil’s demographics seem to favor Bolsonaro’s aggressive identity politics — including an anti-LGBTQ agenda and hostility toward environmentalists — earning him the nickname “Trump of the tropics.”
The country’s own statistics institute predicts that the number of Brazilians who identify as evangelical Christians – who according to pre-election polls overwhelmingly favor Bolsonaro and lean to the right – will outnumber Catholics within a decade.
Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters gathered Wednesday at a regional army barracks in Rio, demanding that the military intervene and keep him in power.
Others appeared at military installations in São Paulo, Santa Catarina and in the capital Brasilia. Meanwhile, truckers maintained some 150 roadblocks across the country to protest Bolsonaro’s defeat, despite Federal Supreme Court orders for law enforcement to dismantle them.
In one of the trucker’s roadblocks in the interior of São Paulo state, a car rammed into a crowd, leaving several injured, including children and police officers.
Since democracy was reinstated in the country after the military dictatorship (1964-1985), all Brazilian rulers have been guided, to a greater or lesser extent, by a common belief in strong state-run companies, high taxes, and energetic redistribution of wealth.
Bolsonaro initially tried to have a more austere and business-friendly government, until the social devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the sinking of his chances of re-election led him to loosen control of public spending and to emulate the policies he used to criticize.
How Lula will govern is less clear. he conquered a close victory with a lead of just 2 million votes after forming a broad coalition basically united by a desire to defeat Bolsonaro.
And, due to promises to leave a generous welfare program in place until 2023, will have a limited tax margin to spend on other priorities.
His running mate who belongs to another party, the former governor of Sao Paulo Gerald Alckminwas chosen to send a favorable signal about centrist and fiscally conservative policies that made Lula a popular figure on Wall Street during his first years in office. This week, Lula announced that the vice president-elect will lead his transition team.
Also on the scene of victory on Sunday night, however, were a number of leftist stalwarts who were implicated in a series of corruption scandals that have engulfed Lula’s Workers’ Party, and paved the way for the rise of Bolsonaro.
Although Lula’s supporters downplayed corruption problems – the Federal Supreme Court overturned the convictions that kept him behind bars for nearly two years – is for many Brazilians a symbol of the culture of corruption that has long permeated politics. For this reason, it is likely that a higher ethical level will be demanded of him in a country where almost all governments have been accused of buying votes in Congress.
“This was not just a fever dream of his opponents,” Winter said of the corruption charges that had long plagued the PT.
the international front
Lula’s victory coincides with a series of victories for the center-left in South America, including those in Chile and Colombia, whose leaders admire the Brazilian leader-elect.
During his first term in the Brazilian presidency, Lula spearheaded a so-called “pink tide” that promoted regional integration, rivaled US dominance, and put the rights of neglected minorities and indigenous groups at the center of the political schedule.
During Bolsonaro’s presidency, Brazil has largely shied away from that leadership role, even if the sheer size of its economy means a return to the most influential group of countries is never far away.
Scott Hamilton, a former US diplomat, said Lula will have to make a difficult decision about whether to use Brazil’s considerable influence to implement an ambitious foreign policy to tackle entrenched problems, or simply use his star power in the world stage to shore up support at home.
“Gloating about not being Bolsonaro will get you a lot of positive attention on its own,” said Hamilton, whose last post, until April, was as consul general in Rio.
“The most ambitious path would involve trying to help resolve some of the most difficult political issues where democratic governments in the region are in trouble or have died out,” he concluded.