by Alex Hochuli
Monday, 31
October 2022
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08:00

The resurrection of Lula

It should have been easy, but the former metalworker won by only a whisker
by Alex Hochuli
Lula has been resurrected. Credit: Getty

São Paulo

It should have been an easy victory but former metalworker and two-term former president Lula won by only a whisker. President Bolsonaro, by means fair and foul, threw the whole weight of the Brazilian state at the election — and still couldn’t win. This was Brazil’s most crucial election since re-democratisation in the 1980s, but the important thing is that, today, the usually trite conclusion is actually profound: democracy was the winner.

“I feel like I have been resurrected in Brazilian politics,” exclaimed Lula in his victory speech, “they tried to bury me alive — and yet, here I am.” In a second-round campaign characterised by religious themes, this was a knowing statement — Lula was even forced to sign an open letter to evangelicals, a key plank of Bolsonaro’s support, effectively claiming that, no, he was not in league with the devil. It was also a reference to his imprisonment for 580 days on corruption charges, since quashed, which reinforced the idea that this was no ordinary election. Lula was not up against a mere adversary, “but the machine of the Brazilian state placed at the service of the incumbent.”

There is some truth to this claim. This year, Bolsonaro declared open season on the state coffers. Hundreds of billions of reais were illegally disbursed via a “secret budget” to allies; energy subsidies tried to counteract rising fuel inflation; and cash transfers were temporarily bumped up — all this and more in an effort to salvage Bolsonaro’s re-election bid that looked a long shot a few months ago.

And then, on election day, federal highway police carried out arbitrary stops on buses carrying voters in PT-supporting areas, especially in the North-East. Reports claim this flagrant vote-suppression measure was coordinated from the presidential palace itself.

Despite this, it is worth asking: if Bolsonaro is as terrible as is often claimed, why did Lula win with a mere 50.9% — only 2.1 million votes more than his rival? Inflation had been biting hard since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, making meat in particular unaffordable. Over 600,000 Brazilians died during the Covid pandemic and reports circulated that Bolsonaro had declined offers to buy vaccines — or only sought to make purchases in return for kickbacks. The economy is in terrible shape and millions are going hungry. So why couldn’t Lula achieve a larger margin of victory?

Perhaps he was caught between two stools: one playing to establishment interests and the other rallying his working-class and poor base. Indeed, Bolsonaro did not have the support of Brazil’s elites during this election. Swathes of Brazil’s ruling class, from finance capital and industrialists, to the legal and cultural establishment, to centre-Right politicians, all swung behind Lula. The verdict: Bolsonaro is bad for business.

For this reason, Lula’s government will “not be a PT government,” according to his party president. Instead, it will reflect the broad front that elected him, including former centre-Right opponents. Bolsonaro-aligned deputies hold a plurality in the lower house of Congress and Bolsonaro allies control the governorship of the three largest states in the union.

Another reason for Bolsonaro’s surprising levels of support may be that the gusts of anti-politics still blow strong: politicians promising things require trust; when little is on hand, explicitly destructive politicians like Bolsonaro fare better. After all, a few months after inauguration in 2019 Bolsonaro proudly declared that his government had the mission to “deconstruct” and “undo a lot of things.” In this at least Bolsonaro succeeded.

Thankfully, Brazilian democracy has remained intact. With key allies conceding defeat and Bolsonaro hiding away for hours after the result was declared, the fears of a post-election coup attempt are receding. Brazil’s imperfect democracy stumbles on, unresponsive and exclusionary, but still much better ground on which to fight than the “real democracy” of which Bolsonaro dreams.

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Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
27 days ago

This article (from a guy writing from São Paolo) purports to be factual, but is laced with the usual mainstream media, left-wing bias. (Full Disclosure- I’ve lived in Brazil since 2018, the year Lula was thrown in the slammer on the facts of serious corruption, and the year Bolsonaro was elected).

First of all, Lula’s presidency (2003-10) oversaw the largest corruption scheme in Latin American history (and THAT’s saying something): the scheme involved the state-owned Oil Company, government construction contacts (mostly Odebrecht – now defunct after corruption brought to light) and kick-backs to Lula and his corrupt cronies in Congress.

In 2018, Two Appeals Courts and the Supreme Court, found Lula guilty on the facts and sentenced him on the facts to 20 years in the hoosegow. Only later, Lula cronies in the Supreme Court vacated the sentence on a technicality (claiming Jurisdiction should have been in Brasília) without exonerating him on the facts. Before he was retried on the same facts, the statute of limitations expired – and so he runs for president. The same crone in the Supreme Court, also head of the election overseeing committee, declared (against the wishes of two other members) that Bolsonaro’s campaign could not refer Lula’s conviction or time in the can during the campaign.

Lula’s worker’s party successor, “Dilma”, oversaw economic contraction- 3.5% in 2015, then 3.3% in 2016. She was then impeached for various degrees of incompetence etc. Bolsonaro reduced business regulations and initiated pro-growth policies that created 4.6% growth last year (still not enough to eradicate Dilma’s recession- but excellent results).

Let’s not forget that Lula and his friend Fidel Castro initiated the hard-left São Paolo Forum in the 90’s.

Brazil is eerily divided by a clean line between the states in the North and Northwest (pro-Lula) and the States in the South and Southeast (pro-Bolsonaro) – like a reverse of the Union v. The Confederacy in 1861. The vote is based purely on aggregate popular vote rather than a state-representative system like in the US, so there were more people voting in the north than in the south, and this election was the closest since 1989 (recall Brazil was under military control from 1961 to about 1988).

In short, the question should be: how could the voters in the north of Brazil be so eager to vote for a hard-left, corrupt ex-con? Welcome to the third world, and their friends in Cuba, Venezuela, Chile etc.

However, as the author notes, the democracy worked without a coup, and Voters in the North and Northwest will get what they asked for: “good and hard.”

Rob N
Rob N
27 days ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

I was going to raise similar points about Lula’s conviction being overturned. Not exactly innocent.

Shock. Bolsonaro used Govt money to subsidise energy costs. Never happened in truly democratic countries, has it?

Covid deaths? Much lower than Peru (heavy restrictions and Mandates), v similar to Chile (most vaccinated in S America and better health system), slightly more than Argentina, Colombia and UK. Lesson is that Brazil over reacted to Covid and that was not only Bolsonaro’s fault.

Supreme Court and most of the establishment were, like the US, very against the maverick leader.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
27 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

Excellent points!

Beny Spira
Beny Spira
27 days ago

This article couldn’t be more biased. It repeats the usual mainstream media narrative about Bolsonaro’s pitfalls. The only useful bit was “Swathes of Brazil’s ruling class, from finance capital and industrialists, to the legal and cultural establishment, to centre-Right politicians, all swung behind Lula. The verdict: Bolsonaro is bad for business.”
Hence the full weight of the state wasn’t backing Bolsonaro at all as claimed at the beginning of the article.
More importantly, it is shameful that my country elected a corrupt inept president as Lula. He should have been still in jail, but instead is going to run the country.
We are by are own making a Banana Republic.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
27 days ago
Reply to  Beny Spira

Anyone who downvoted you (i counteracted it) does not know the facts.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
27 days ago
Reply to  Beny Spira

That’s exactly correct – if he has the Chief Justice of the STF in his pocket who blocked the right to free speech of the Bolsonaristas (“disinformation” to remind the Republic that Lula was convicted of corruption by the Supreme Court, before one of them let him go on a technicality), we need to watch out for the worst.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
26 days ago

I was born in Brazil and lived there for my first 40 years. I immigrated as soon as Lula and his gang won for the first time (2002), aware of how the game was going to end. It still baffles me that people anywhere in the world (especially in Brazil itself) can bother discussing anything after the full scope of the PT-led corruption machine was laid bare by Sergio Moro’s Lava-Jato investigation. That people dare denying it speaks volumes about the character of not only the Brazilian politicians, but the majority of the Brazilian people – as sadly demonstrated in yesterday’s election.
It will be quite interesting when Lula seizes his second chance to line his pockets (an fund some more foreign “revolucion” projects…) and the patsies that elected him scramble to explain their “surprise”… And no, it won’t start right away. Fidel Castro’s playbook requires about a year of “stabilization” (which in Brazil was labeled the “Lulinha peace & love phase” back in 2003-2004) before the machinery kicks in again. Unfortunately for Brazil, there is still plenty to rob – and an incredibly stupid mass of patsies to support the plan until it is too late to do anything about it. In Brazil, democracy is the airport.

George Marshall
George Marshall
27 days ago

Lurking around in the depths of Bolsonaro supporting social media (I’m a true deplorable), it’s interesting to note: both sides sincerely believe the establishment elite was against them, that the democratic game is rigged, and that their man is the people’s champion.
The bus incident in particular is interesting. Bolsonaro supporters were initially commentating on how it was likely a ploy from Lula to suppress their votes. Quite the opposite of its presentation here
Ultimately though, in the only game that mattered, Lula won and Bolsonaro lost. At least the establishment didn’t get their first choice.

Denis Lima
Denis Lima
27 days ago

Lula foi responsável, junto com seu partido comunista , do maior roubo de dinheiro publico da historia. Mensalão e petrolao são fatos que não podem ser negados por qualquer brasileiro decente. O STF ,corte corrupta ,depois de varias chincanas soltaram lula sem examinar um prova sequer , passou por cima dela. A ultima investida do judiciário foi dar a si proprio o poder de policia politica par investigar as “inverdades”das eleicoes- Não pequeno petista , não sou um gado bolsonarista, Bolsonaro foi um lixo , tanto que o PT e a esquerda o woke esta ai .Absurdo esse traste, chamado lula, ser presidente . Quem não se lembra do passado esta condenado a repeti-lo.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
27 days ago
Reply to  Denis Lima

Concordo: nenhum dos dois é santo, mas Lula é um absurdo e um condenado.

John Tovell
John Tovell
26 days ago

Thanks Richard for a very useful comment. Further to what you say about the North being pro-Lula, I am surprised that was still the case in this election, given some of the major acheivements of his mandate:

  1. Water supply diverted by canals from the River São Francisco to the drought-hit north-east. (Transposição do Rio São Francisco)
  2. Railway completed linking the north with the south-east (Ferronorte)
  3. Increase in the Brazilian version of Universal Credit from R$190 per month to R$600.

How did Bolsonaro afford these projects? Simply by cutting down on the endemic corruption at every level of Brazilian government.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
27 days ago

I suppose that is one view of Lula, fair enough given that the author wrote recently (in a blog post on China):

I would just state that increasing great power confrontation is a consequence of the dynamics of capitalist competition. Only socialist revolution in the West – and in China – can lead to peaceful coexistence.

rob monks
rob monks
22 days ago

this is more nuanced than some of the indignant responses acknowledge. A very good article, thank you.
Swathes of Brazil’s ruling class, from finance capital and industrialists, to the legal and cultural establishment, to centre-Right politicians, all swung behind Lula. The verdict: Bolsonaro is bad for business.’ This I have not read in other accounts but I am sure is accurate.

neil morrison
neil morrison
26 days ago

Largescale corruption notwithstanding, Bolsonaro simply just had to go… he overplayed his already flimsy “strong man” stance and his position was increasingly untenable: relying, like those that inspired him, on feeding into the fears and prejudices that many living comfortable lives in the affluent Southern States have when it comes to sharing some of the country’s considerable wealth with their less advantaged northern compatriots. Like in the US, it’s the fawning to the alarmingly (and bafflingly) influential Evangelicals that really takes the biscuit, given his lack of actually putting any true Christian doctrines into policy practice other than the bread-and-butter vagaries aimed at repelling perceived existential threats to the family unit (although the proudly corporate-structured and unashamedly materialistic nature of the Evangelical church itself probably renders it more feel-good show-biz than true devotion or spiritual enlightenment).
Perhaps somewhat lacking circumspection, Bolsonaro is also fond of publicly praising Brazil 1960s military coup, defending its practice of routinely torturing anyone deemed a dissident and imposing strict press censorship and freedom of expression, and even opining about forcibly sterilising the poor. He said is his son were gay, he’s want him to die in some accident. This is the kind of blow-hard shtick that might go down a treat with some of his core demographic of gaucha aficionados posting endless selfies on the very latest iPhones wearing only the most impressive foreign “marcas”, but left him isolated internationally and ultimately only worked to divide and polarise the country much further than Lula ever did.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
26 days ago
Reply to  neil morrison

Bolsonaro was indeed a terrible example of politician – selling the idea that he was some sort of Godsend to a country that deserved better. However people are failing to grasp the existential risk personified by Lula’s party and their well-orchestrated corruption machine. Despicable as Fidel Castro was, one has to ackowledge his insight on just how effective his “revolutionary brand” would be even long after his death. In public it plays like Robin Hood. In private, it plays like industrial scale expropriation to syphon money for his personal accounts and fund his cronies in other banana republics across the world. Deadly effective – and to add insult to injury, Lula gets to be seen as “champion of democracy” by foreigners that should have known better. I am glad I left.