What Lula’s victory in Brazil means for the world


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Less than three years ago, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was in prison. On Monday, he awoke to a narrow victory in Sunday’s run-off election on his way back to Brazil’s presidency. The leftist defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a bitter contest shaped by ideological and personal enmity. His victory is one of the most interesting political comebacks of this century.

Lula served two successful terms as president from 2003 to 2010, where he used the commodity boom to lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty through massive welfare programs. But the years that followed his presidency saw an economic downturn, while a wide-ranging corruption scandal engulfed much of Brazil’s political establishment, leading to Lula himself going to prison in 2018, only for the country’s Supreme Court to free him in 2019. and later ordered. cancel the charges against him.

Bolsonaro has occupied the right-wing fringes of Brazilian politics for much of his political career, known for his penchant for misogynistic and deplorable statements as well as nostalgia for the years of military dictatorship. He rode the wave of popular discontent as an anti-establishment candidate and won the 2018 election. His tumultuous four years in power have been marred by scandals, a muddled response to the coronavirus pandemic and a polarizing and outspoken brand of politics that critics fear is eroding the bonds of Brazil’s young democracy.

Lula, a true hero of the working class who lost a finger in a factory accident, was perhaps the only person who had enough public appeal to oppose Bolsonaro’s movement. Now, he has little time to celebrate his victory.

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At the time of writing Monday, Bolsonaro had not conceded defeat, although election officials confirmed the results Sunday night and many world leaders, including President Biden, congratulated Lula and hailed Brazil’s free and fair elections. Bolsonaro has not said anything at all (although one of his sons has posted somewhat cryptic tweet urges supporters not to “give up on our Brazil”.

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In his months as president, Bolsonaro has questioned the integrity of Brazil’s electoral processes, despite insufficient evidence to support his claims. Now, defeated, he can take another page from former President Donald Trump’s playbook, pointing to Lula’s slim margin of victory as evidence to question his legitimacy and spend the midterms before Lula’s inauguration struggling with political transition.

“This is the Trump model,” Marcos Nobre, a political analyst and author, told my colleagues. “That is, the one who won in the fair and the field of elections is illegal. Bolsonaro will try to weaken Lula in every way.”

“Will he hold tight and demand a vote audit and trigger a Trump constitutional crisis in 2020?” – asked colleagues. “Or because his conservative movement has fared better than expected, will he consolidate a strong position as Brazil’s most powerful opposition leader after the return to democracy – using his massive social media platform as a bully platform to make Lula’s job difficult? Or, as some have suggested, will he leave Brazil to avoid possible criminal prosecution?”

Lula, on the other hand, presented himself as a conciliatory figure who wanted to represent the entire nation, restore confidence in its civic institutions, and return the country to a level of peace and democracy. As the Brazilian essayist Bruno Cava put it, he “presented himself as the candidate of the system, as the ‘Brazilian Biden,’ putting an end to the Trumpist interlude.”

Lula’s election campaign attracted a broad coalition of parties and politicians, including former political rivals. After the election, a number of Bolsonaro’s key allies also called on the president to recognize the result in the country’s favor. “It’s time to disarm the spirit, extend your hand to your adversaries,” said House Speaker Arthur Lira.

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But, like Biden, Lula will have to contend with serious legislative and political opposition from a emboldened right that will keep appealing this lost election. The headwinds of the global economy — and the maelstrom of misinformation on social media — will buffet his agenda.

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During his first period in power, Lula seemed to be the most prominent and beloved leader of the South American left. He was a titan among the “pink” wave of elected left-wing governments across the continent, and his relative pragmatism contrasted with the authoritarian and demagogic left-wing regimes in places like Venezuela and Cuba.

Now, Lula is back in power at another juncture in the continent’s politics. Since 2020, left-wing governments have taken power in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Colombia – the latter being ruled by the right. There is no simple narrative about their rise, but it all happened in the shadow of the pandemic, which exposed the social inequality of many countries, especially in Latin America.

Michael Shifter, former president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue, told AFP: “It’s more of a rejection trend … people looking for an alternative.” “We are at a point in Latin America where many of the governments that are rejected are right-wing or center-right.” And the pendulum could quickly swing in the other direction if voters believe that these governments will fail in the coming years.

In terms of foreign policy, it’s hard to see Lula presenting himself as an ideological sidekick for Biden, the way Bolsonaro did for Trump. He could recapture the position his government took more than a decade ago, recasting Brazil’s role as a champion of the Global South, while remaining at a distance from the West and taking an independent position on a number of powerful geopolitical challenges.

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Like Bolsonaro, Lula may question Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — he even said in an interview earlier this year that the leaders of both countries were accused of war. Unlike Bolsonaro, Lula is unlikely to appeal to evangelical voters by embracing Israel and right-wing demagogue Benjamin Netanyahu, who could return to power after Tuesday’s election.

Lula promised to protect the Amazon. After Bolsonaro, it will not be easy.

Under Bolsonaro, deforestation of the Amazon region, described for years as the “lungs” of the world, has accelerated. He stopped protecting the environment and undermined the government agencies tasked with enforcing them. An estimated 2 billion trees were cut down or burned during his time in power as his administration quietly sought to boost the interests of Brazil’s agribusiness. Between the summer of 2019 and 2021, an area of ​​forest larger than the whole of Belgium disappeared. According to a study published last year in the journal Nature, parts of the Amazon rainforest have gone from being a carbon sink to another source of waste.

This is a concern for all those concerned about the planetary effects of global warming and the international community’s struggle to combat climate change. Lula has vowed to turn the page and curb deforestation, as he did before in office. One analysis predicts that Lula’s victory could lead to a 90 percent loss of Amazon rainforest over the next decade.

“Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis and protect all our biomes, especially the Amazon forest,” Lula said after his victory.


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