Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will find it difficult to govern for all in a Brazil torn in half but, despite the tensions, hope has won out and the transition has begun.
Brazil is a highly emotional country and has experienced the election result almost like a football championship final between two irreconcilable teams. The tension that presided over the campaign has been transferred to the streets, and the blocking of hundreds of roads by radical pro-Bolsonaro groups with a clear pro-coup attitude has put the whole country in check.
But yesterday, after more than two days of tense silence, Jair Bolsonaro finally spoke for a few moments to say that he would act according to the constitution – although he did not have the democratic dignity to explicitly recognise his defeat.
The result of the election was incontestable. In the end, Lula won by 2,148,645 votes, or 50.90% to Bolsonaro’s 49.10%. This result – although it represents a much smaller difference than in the first round, where the difference in favour of Lula was 6,187,159 votes – was wide enough to be incontestable.
Certainly, shaving more than four million votes off Lula’s lead in the month separating the first and second rounds was a great result for Bolsonaro's aggressive disinformation campaign, which used any means available and had the weight of the government machinery behind it.
But damage to Bolsonaro’s campaign was far from trivial. A former deputy, friend and ally of Bolsonaro attacked police with an automatic rifle and grenades when they tried to arrest him on suspicion of an electoral offence. And a prominent pro-Bolsonaro senator chased a Lula supporter who had rebuked her into the street, pointing a gun at him. The fact that the man being chased at gunpoint was Black did not go unnoticed by the many affected by the racist violence that persists in Brazil, and which Bolsonaro embodies.
But Lula's victory is a heroic victory for democracy and for the values of diversity and social justice, especially considering that four years ago he was imprisoned and destroyed and his Workers’ Party (PT) was struggling to survive.
In his election night speech, Lula displayed his more moderate profile and asserted that there are not two Brazils but one. This sounds good, but in reality the country appears divided along some thick lines between Right and Left: north and south, rural areas and urban centres, evangelists and Catholics, middle and upper classes and popular classes.
Lula is going to have to govern for everyone in this Brazil broken in half. That will not be easy after four years of division and hatred fomented by Bolsonaro and his neo-fascist agenda, his incompetence and his provocative, despotic and messianic disposition. His painful electoral defeat (he is the first president to fail to renew his mandate since the restoration of democracy in 1988) makes resentment one of the emotions that Lula will have to deal with in the coming times as he strives for reconciliation.
The outgoing president, in an unprecedented move, took more than 48 hours to make a statement on the result, fuelling all kinds of speculation while his supporters blocked roads across the country. Coordinated protests were unleashed that sought to mobilise the Bolsonaristas to contest Lula's election with a clear coup intention. Fortunately, after some hesitation on the part of the federal highway police, this attitude was not backed by Bolsonarista strongmen, nor by the judicial authorities or the army, who put pressure on the president to enforce the law and restore order in the country.
Finally, in a vague and barely two-and-a-half minute speech – clearly the result of a long internal negotiation – Bolsonaro alluded to a sense of injustice and indignation about how the electoral process was conducted, but said that his people would not adopt the radical methods of protest that he attributed to the Left and said “the right to come and go” could not be violated. He also said, and this was important, that he would fulfil his constitutional responsibilities. He lacked the courage and decency to explicitly acknowledge his electoral defeat, but he acknowledged the 58 million votes he won and, in a toast to the sun, appealed to the colours green and yellow, the slogan “order and progress”, and the slogan of “God, homeland, family and freedom” that defines his movement.
The much-feared coup was ruled out, and there was enormous relief throughout the country
Ciro Nogueira, whose position as minister of the civil house is equivalent to that of chief of staff, then said that he was authorised by the president to begin the transition process, and that he would contact Geraldo Alckmin, Lula’s vice-president, to activate the machinery of the transfer of power, which should be completed on 1 January. With this, the much-feared coup was ruled out, and there was enormous relief throughout the country.
On the night of his victory, Lula unveiled an intense social and education agenda, and emphasised the fight against the climate crisis (he promised zero deforestation in the Amazon) and a Brazilian return to the world stage with a vocation for leadership. But to carry out his aims, Lula will have to force the seams of a fiscal balance broken by his political adversary in his eagerness to get elected.
This will be Lula’s third term in office, and likely his most difficult. Beyond the existing social division, his government will have to face a complex economic situation, with a dark international environment determined by the exit of the pandemic and by Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has led to significant inflationary tensions and a generalised rise in interest rates that augur a period of instability of still uncertain dimensions.
In addition to inventing the formula to finance his social agenda, Lula will seek to halt the accelerated degradation of the Amazon region, which is in a critical situation after decades of overexploitation that accelerated markedly in the last four years, under the green light for depredation granted by the Bolsonaro government. Deforestation, illegal mining, agribusiness expansion and land occupation are problems that will need urgent attention. On this front, Lula will be able to count on the solidarity of the international community and, predictably, many of the funds for the protection of the Amazon that were withdrawn in the face of Bolsonaro’s election will return to the country. The return of Marina Silva, the environmental leader who was already a minister with Lula in his first government and who implemented a powerful package of measures to protect the Amazon and its inhabitants, is good news.
Another important front for Lula will be Brazil’s return to the international stage, where he will try to recover his regional leadership role and his commitment to a very weakened and misguided Latin American multilateral system. He will also have to review Brazil’s position in the so-called BRICS, given the accentuation of militarist authoritarianism in Russia and China and the anti-democratic drift in India, and he will also have to rethink the meaning of the Global South and South-South relations.
Brazil’s return to the global stage at this critical time is great news, and if the result is the defence of democratic values and an Amazon on the verge of being completely destroyed, the world has won in this crucial election.
The tension and division in the country will continue for a few more months. But the euphoric effect of the victory over Bolsonarista fascism, and the positive energy that Lula is capable of unleashing, brings an air of optimism to the Latin American region and the world, and undoubtedly reinforces our hope for a return to happiness.
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