‘LULA’ – Brazil has chosen, but the struggle goes on

Emilio Faulkner is a third year IR student in the Department of War Studies. Due to his Honduran heritage he is motivated to take on the position of Latin America Editor for IR Today. He believes Latin America is often understudied and disregarded in the study of IR. Emilio is therefore excited to have the opportunity to fill this void and explore the region’s role in international affairs. As well as Latin America, his academic interests lie in the concepts of Grand Strategy, Statecraft and the recent re-emergence of major power rivalry on the global stage.

Brazil finally has its President-elect. Following a violent and momentous campaign trail and an election described by the New York Times as “the most important day for planet earth”, the rest of the world is rejoicing in Bolsonaro’s downfall. However, as a consequence of this epic, disuniting fight, Lula inherits a country divided like never before. Divided between rich and poor, divided via geography and ideology – the severe partisanship present in Brazilian society today could prove an almost insurmountable barrier to the changes the world is eagerly waiting to see in Brazil. Lula may have won out on this occasion, but Bolsonarismo is here to stay. Following victory he stated – “I will govern for 215 million Brazilians and not just those who voted for me. We are one country, one people, one great nation.” Lula needs to reconstruct confidence in democracy and the political class in Brazil and unfortunately, despite widespread relief around Lula’s historic comeback victory, the real challenge starts now.

This was an election of both a national and international magnitude, rarely ever seen before. In Brazil, 470,000 polling stations were set up around the country, with digital voting machines even delivered by boat to the most isolated of communities. Also, due to obligatory voting in Brazil, 697,000 Brazilians living abroad took to the polling booths. The options were clear. Vote for the incumbent Bolsonaro –  a former army captain, who has earned himself the name ‘Trump of the Tropics’, is set on further increasing the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, easing gun laws, promoting traditional gender roles and who has allowed poverty to yet again strike at the heart of many Brazilian families. Lula, on the other hand, represents a figure who left office having lifted 20 million people from poverty and who, like last time, vows to end hunger, reduce carbon emissions and introduce higher public spending to change the fortunes of the Brazilian state and general public. Furthermore, owing to Lula’s incarceration in 2017 and Bolsonaro’s issues with the law, having survived over 150 impeachment requests since 2018, both are perceived by their opponents as power-hungry, greedy, deceitful tyrants.  Yet, to their supporters, they are idols – the saviours of Brazil’s future. Simply, there is no word other than ‘polarisation’ which can better encompass the nature of the election and fierce battle in which Bolsonaro, ‘Lula’ and Brazil have been embroiled.

As expected, and despite a complete lack of international and even domestic support from some of his most important allies, Bolsonaro has failed to concede the election to ‘Lula’. Having stayed silent following the announcement of the final result, he has now allowed the transition process to begin, indicating he will not make particularly strong efforts to disrupt ‘Lula’s accession to power as was feared. Yet, his staunch commitment to claiming the susceptibility of Brazil’s electronic ballot system to fraud, highlights how although the fire may be now dying out, the embers of an election, which according to the ACLED, has been the catalyst for “36 instances of political violence involving party representatives and supporters across the country” will continue to burn with vigour. Considering the appearance of 321 protests in 26 different states against Bolsonaro’s election defeat, this is clearer than ever.

Lula faces an uphill battle of momentous proportions. A society divided, a wholly unfavourable, conservative Congress and hostile state governors – supporters of Bolsonaro and his way of government. In 2021, 18 trees were cut down every second in Brazil. This is something Lula is set on reversing. He is also set on extending cash transfers to the poor and increasing the minimum wage. With the rising cost of borrowing, Brazil’s struggles with inflation and therefore, the increasing risk of debt-fuelled spending, he faces an almost impossible task. Internally, he will have to look to an allegiance with the Centraoa political group that provides loyalty in Congress in return for financial support and backing for projects in their home districts. Internationally, he will require vast support to pressure for change, especially with regard to the Amazon rainforest, which has been the dominating factor surrounding the election in international circles. Considering the rapid international recognition of Lula’s victory, including America’s Joe Biden, Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez, France’s Emmanuel Macron and even President Putin among many others, indicates that this support will be on hand. 

This election has been described as “democracy versus dictatorship.” It has been described as “the most important in the country’s democratic history.” With its rejection of Bolsonaro, Brazil has rejected threats against indigenous people, threats against journalists and the media and threats to the Amazon. Brazil has taken a big step. Yet, 49.1% of its population voted for Bolsonaro. Lula, therefore, will continue to work under the shadow of Bolsonarismo and will have to overcome major challenges to make good on his election promises. Nevertheless, Lula’s political revival is a historic moment which will have significant consequences in Brazil and around the globe. The world was watching – Brazil delivered. Now, the international community must not turn away. Brazil, as the greatest Latin American power, despite any internal issues, is a vital global player. It is now, yet again, Lula’s turn to lead the country. Can he unite Brazil? Can he reconstruct the country through dialogue and harmony – in stark opposition to Bolsonaro’s years of radical, violent and offensive rhetoric? After his first two terms, Lula left office with an approval rate of over 80%. We wait to see if he can repeat this feat. 

Image Credit: https://exame.com/brasil/lula-x-bolsonaro-quem-esta-na-frente-nas-ultimas-pesquisas-para-presidente/

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