The second coming: On Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s win in Brazil

Lula will have to negotiate his way past Brazil’s status quoist elites

Updated - November 02, 2022 12:14 pm IST

Published - November 02, 2022 12:20 am IST

Three years ago, he was in prison over corruption charges. Today, he is the President-elect of South America’s largest country. The story of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former two-term President of Brazil and leader of the leftist Workers Party (PT), is one of the most astonishing comebacks in contemporary Latin American politics. When 99.5% of votes were counted, Lula, as he is popularly known, had won 50.9% votes, defeating the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who got 49.1%. Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who presided over Brazil’s rightward shift in the past five years, had done better than most pollsters expected in the first round. But in the run-off, when the voters were offered two contrasting choices — one representing a cocktail of ultra-nationalism, conservatism and free market policies and the other promising inclusive and sustainable development anchored in social liberalism — they chose the latter. Mr. Bolsonaro has none but himself to blame. An admirer of Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship, he oversaw a disastrous governmental response to COVID-19, which caused some 7,00,000 deaths, and shrinking economic opportunities. If Mr. Bolsonaro rose to power attacking Brazil’s left, after his five years in power, for many Brazilians, the PT rule was an era of better days. What the Brazilian Left wanted was a leader. And they got one again in Lula, after his corruption convictions were annulled by the Supreme Court.

When Lula was in power between 2003 and 2010, his policies lifted some 25 million Brazilians out of poverty. He focused on growth and welfare and chose a cooperative model that sought coexistence rather than confrontation with the country’s aristocracy while pushing for incremental redistribution. As in the past, Lula returns to power when a pink tide is sweeping through the Americas. Most of the major countries in the continent are now ruled by Leftists. While Lula will find a favourable regional environment, his biggest challenge would be to live up to the expectations of Brazilians. He will inherit a different Brazil today. The commodity boom that funded his ambitious welfare programme last time is no longer there. The slowdown in China, Brazil’s biggest trading partner, has hurt the economy, which is expected to grow only 0.6% next year. This, along with Mr. Bolsonaro’s mismanagement and the economic effects of COVID-19, has led to a sharp rise in poverty and hunger, affecting some 33 million people. Lula would also face resistance from a hostile Congress, where conservatives still remain strong. The road ahead is bumpy, but his record shows that he is a clever politician and an able administrator who might well be able to negotiate his way past Brazil’s status quoist elites to bring about incremental changes.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here.

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