Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva has been elected Brazil’s next president, in an impressive comeback after a tight race to the final on Sunday. His victory heralds a political change for Latin America’s largest country, after four years of the far-right administration of Jair Bolsonaro.
The 76-year-old politician’s victory represents the left’s return to power in Brazil, and concludes a triumphant personal comeback for Lula da Silva, following a series of corruption allegations that led to his 580-day jail term. The rulings were subsequently annulled by the Supreme Court, and cleared the way for him to run for re-election.
“They tried to bury me alive and I’m here,” he said in a jubilant speech to supporters and reporters on Sunday evening, calling the victory his political “resurrection”.
“From January 1, 2023, I will govern for the 215 million Brazilians, not only for those who voted for me. There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, one great nation,” said Lula da Silva .
He will take the reins of a country plagued by great inequality that is still struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Approximately 9.6 million people fell below the poverty line between 2019 and 2021, and literacy and school attendance rates have declined. It will also face a deeply fractured nation and pressing environmental issues, including rampant deforestation in the Amazon.
This will be his third term, after previously governing Brazil for two consecutive terms between 2003 and 2010.
The former leader’s victory on Sunday was the latest in a political wave in Latin America, with left-wing politicians winning in Argentina, Colombia and Chile. But Lula da Silva – a former union leader with a blue-collar background – has tried to reassure the moderates throughout his campaign.
He has built a broad alliance that includes several centrist and center-right politicians, including historic opponents of the PSDB, Brazil’s Social Democratic Party. Among these politicians is his vice president, the former governor of São Paulo Geraldo Alckmin, who has been cited by Lula’s camp as a guarantee of moderation in his administration.
On the campaign trail, Lula da Silva has been reluctant to show his cards when it comes to outlining an economic strategy, a trend that has earned him harsh criticism from his rivals. “Who is the Minister of Economy of the other candidate?” There isn’t, it doesn’t say. What will be its political and economic route? More states? Less state? We don’t know…” Bolsonaro said during a live stream on YouTube on October 22.
Lula da Silva has said he would push Congress to pass tax reform that exempts low-income earners from paying income tax. And his campaign received a boost from former centrist presidential candidate Simone Tebet, who came third in the first round earlier this month and threw her support behind Lula da Silva in the second round. Known for her ties to Brazil’s agricultural industry, Tebet told a press conference on October 7 that Lula da Silva and his economic team had “received and incorporated all the suggestions of our program into the program of his government” .
He has also received the support of several renowned economists and highly appreciated by investors, including Arminio Fraga, former president of the Central Bank of Brazil.
Lula da Silva received more than 60 million votes, the most in Brazil’s history, beating his own record of 2006.
But despite the huge turnout of his supporters, his victory was by a narrow margin: Lula da Silva won 50.90% of the vote and Bolsonaro received 49.10%, according to Brazil’s electoral authority.
His biggest challenge now may be unifying a politically fractured country.
Hours after the results were announced, Bolsonaro had not yet acknowledged defeat or made any public statement. Meanwhile, videos on social media showed his supporters blocking roads in two states to protest Lula da Silva’s victory.
“We will only leave when the army takes control of the country,” an unidentified Bolsonaro supporter said in a video taken in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
Lula da Silva will have to pursue dialogue and rebuild relations, said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper, a São Paulo university. “The president can be an important instrument for that as long as he’s not just concerned with reaching out to his voter base,” he said.
With more than 58 million votes cast for his rival Bolsonaro – who had been endorsed by the former president of the United States Donald Trump -, Lula da Silva will have to form “pragmatic alliances” with parts of the center and the right who bought the policy of his predecessor, he adds. Thiago Amparo, professor of law and human rights at the FGV business school in São Paulo.
At the same time, he will have to meet the expectations of the fans, added Amparo. “Many voters went to the polls expecting this, not only to get rid of Bolsonaro, but with memories of better economic times during previous Lula governments.”
Many will be watching for potential changes to the 2017 Labor Reform Act, which made more worker rights and benefits subject to negotiation with employers and made union contributions optional. Lula da Silva had previously said he would revoke the act, but recently changed the verb to “review” after criticism from the private sector.
He may find that getting his agenda off the ground is an uphill battle, Amparo warns, especially with a hostile Congress. The seats that used to belong to the traditional right are now occupied by the extreme right, which are not open to negotiation and are not easy to deal with, Emparo emphasizes.
In the last election, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party increased its representatives in the lower house from 76 to 99, while in the Senate it doubled from seven to 14. Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party has also increased its numbers of deputies from 56 to 68 and senators from seven to eight, but in general, conservative-leaning politicians will dominate the next legislature.
This friction will require some compromises, points out Camila Rocha, political scientist at the Cebrap think tank. “[Bolsonaro’s] The Liberal Party will have the largest number of representatives and important allies and will make a real opposition to the government, [Lula da Silva’s] The Workers’ Party will have to sow a coalition with [traditional rightwing party] União Brasil to govern, which means the negotiation of ministries and key positions,” Rocha told CNN.
In the meantime, environmentalists will be watching Lula da Silva’s administration closely as he assumes governance not only of the nation of Brazil, but of the largest forest reserves on the planet.
With the destruction of the vast Amazon rainforest reaching record levels under Bolsonaro’s presidency, Lula da Silva has repeatedly said during his campaign that he would try to curb deforestation. He has argued that protecting the forest could produce benefits, citing the beauty and pharmaceutical industries as potential beneficiaries of biodiversity.
In an interview with foreign press in August, Lula da Silva called for “a new global governance” to address climate change and stressed that Brazil should play a central role in such governance, given its natural resources.
Another tactic will be to create a group including Brazil, Indonesia and Congo before the November 2022 UN-led Conference of the Parties, according to Lula da Silva’s government plan chief Aloizio Mercadante. The group would aim to pressure wealthier countries to finance forest protection, as well as outline strategies for the global carbon market.
Several experts told CNN that they believed his position on the environment and the climate issue could represent a new beginning in Brazil’s international relations.
For Amparo, environmental protection could be a springboard for Brazil’s global leadership, a major shift after Bolsonaro warned the world not to intervene in the destruction of the Amazon. “Lula would try to reposition, almost like a rebranding, Brazil in the international arena as a power to be reckoned with,” he said.
“We can expect a government that will talk to the world again, especially with a new stance in the environmental field,” said Melo, the Insper researcher.