The secret of Lula’s triumph: a broad alliance to save democracy

The elected president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, together with the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, in São Paulo, on October 31, 2022.CARLA CARNIEL (REUTERS)

Brazil has woken up this Monday with a new president-elect and a president defeated mute. “Democracy is back!” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 77, proclaimed at the victory party from the stage alongside several heavyweight allies and his wife, Janja. This is a collective triumph that the leftist has achieved thanks to a broad alliance that includes former critics and political rivals of diverse ideological affinities. He managed to convince all of them to forget enmities, park egos and accompany him on a vital mission: save democracy and Brazilian institutions. The colossal challenge that lies ahead will require meeting those diverse sensitivities to govern such a polarized country.

Euphoria flooded the main avenue of São Paulo on Sunday night, where Lula, wearing a blue shirt, celebrated with a crowd dressed in red a narrow win which ends the era of the far-right Jair Messias Bolsonaro, 67. Lula received this Monday in a hotel in São Paulo the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, and has received telephone congratulations such as the one from the American Joe Biden.

The electoral result indicates that the strategy worked. But for very little. lullah, what led by 1.8 percentage points to the current president, obtained the record of 60 million votes (50.9%) compared to the 58.2 million (49.1%) harvested by Bolsonaro, that is, he obtained more votes than those received in 2018. And although Lula called for national unity, harmony and proclaimed on election night that “there are not two Brazilians”, the portrait is clear. The country is torn in half. A glance at the map shows that the south is Bolsonarista, while the north is with Lula and his allies. And the state that usually tips the balance, Minas Gerais, with 20 million inhabitants, is divided to the extreme. There, Lula was four tenths ahead of Bolsonaro.

Lula knows that he is the repository of a huge vote of confidence delivered, from the extreme left across the spectrum to the right, so that he would fulfill the mission of removing from power a president who has damaged institutions and the balance of powers. He made it clear in the first sentence of the speech he gave once the victory was certified: “This is not a victory for me, nor for the PT (Workers’ Party), nor for the parties that supported me in this campaign. It is the victory of an immense democratic movement that was formed, above parties, personal interests and ideologies, so that democracy could triumph”. The Stock Exchange received the results with slight ups and downs.

Once the first objective has been conquered —defeating Bolsonaro—, the time has come to achieve it. It is time to prepare the transition, define the future government and go into the details of policies of which for now little is known beyond a slogan. Lula is a chameleon who moves skillfully in the field of negotiation. Pragmatism is one of his hallmarks. Throughout half a century in politics, Brazilians have seen countless versions of Lula. The editorialists of the press are wondering this Monday which of them will embody from New Year’s Day, when he is scheduled to take office in Brasilia.

Hunger, the priority

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Hunger will be the priority and flag of the future president, as happened in his first two terms (2003-2010) and made clear on election night. It is a pressing problem that affects 33 million compatriots. For this reason, last night he reiterated a solemn promise that went around the world on January 1, 2003, when the presidential sash was placed for the first time: “We have a duty to guarantee that all Brazilians can have breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. ”.

For that, it needs to put public accounts in order, really affected by the pandemic and electoral government spending with which Bolsonaro tried to guarantee re-election. Lula will have to embark on an in-depth negotiation with Congress, where Bolsonarismo controls the largest parliamentary group. The parliamentarians authorized the current president to spend an extra 100,000 million reais (about 20,000 million euros) on the eve of the elections. Lula has insisted during the campaign, without going into details, that he will exercise fiscal responsibility, but he has also criticized the rigidity of the spending ceiling, which, on the other hand, Bolsonaro has broken over and over again despite his liberal discourse on economics. The PT leader has promised to maintain the payment for the poor of 600 reais (117 euros) approved by Bolsonaro, but he needs to find financing to guarantee it over time.

Lula’s most unconditional supporters are also aware that the triumph is collective. In the Paulista, the former and future president Lula was applauded by the crowd as well as other politicians who have accompanied him in the race to victory such as Simone Tebet, the center-right politician and representative of the agricultural sector who, after finishing third in the first round, embarked on his campaign as a service to democracy. Next to them was Marina Silva, champion of the defense of the environment who has reconciled with Lula despite the virulent campaign that the PT launched against her when she ran for the Presidency years ago.

Especially applauded was the former president Dilma Rousseff, dismissed in 2016 with the excuse of some accounting maneuvers in the midst of a popular outcry against politicians and with the country in economic recession. It is what the Brazilian left knows as “the coup”. The impeachment banished the Workers’ Party from power for a case that has now been filed. There began a journey that included Lula’s time in prison -580 days- and that changed thanks to one of those dramatic script twists that occur in Brazil.

On a Monday in March 2020, a judge overturned the convictions against Lula. Politically rehabilitated, he wasted no time in embarking on his life’s mission. He sought out previously unthinkable allies like Gerald Alckmin, who just four years ago was the candidate, resoundingly defeated, center right. Now he will have him next to him, as vice president.

This time the polls hit the nail on the head. There was suspense until the very end because the recount was only mathematically sentenced when the count was at 98%. Three hours after the schools closed, this country that takes electronic ballot boxes by canoe or helicopter to the villages of the Amazon had counted 120 million votes and the authorities announced the result.

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The secret of Lula’s triumph: a broad alliance to save democracy