Lula da Silva wins Brazil presidential election in major political comeback | Courthouse News Service
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Lula da Silva wins Brazil presidential election in major political comeback

The leftist leader, who is set for a third term, defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a country that remains deeply divided along political lines.

(CN) — Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been elected as the next president of Brazil, with the leftist defeating the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro over the weekend in a squeaker, 50.9% to 49.1%.

The result was much closer than what pollsters predicted, with Bolsonaro gaining ground on Lula since the first-round election earlier this month. At the time, Lula nabbed 48.4% of the vote yet failed to reach the 50% threshold needed for an outright victory.

Lula, of the Workers’ Party, has promised to bring back social welfare programs, raise the minimum wage, expand public sector investment and strengthen environmental protections. Yet he will inherit a deeply polarized nation when he takes office for the third time on Jan. 1, 2023, and must navigate a fragmented, opposition-controlled Congress.

“They tried to bury me alive but I’m here to govern the country,” Lula said during his victory speech in Sao Paulo. “In a very difficult situation, but I am sure that with the help of the people, we will find a way out and restore peace.”

The election was one of the most important in Brazil’s history. “An election that put two opposing national projects face to face,” Lula continued. “This is not a victory for me, nor for the parties that supported me in this campaign. It is the victory of an immense democratic movement that was formed above political parties, personal interests and ideologies.” 

He told his supporters that “the majority of the Brazilian people made it very clear that they want more, not less, democracy.”

Lula’s return to the heights of Brazilian politics comes after his dramatic decline in 2017. After serving two terms as president between 2003 and 2011 and leaving office with approval ratings reaching 90%, he was convicted of money laundering as part of the Car Wash corruption investigations. He spent 580 days in prison before the Supreme Court overturned the ruling and he was released.

Bolsonaro is yet to publicly comment on the election results. During his campaign, he had refused to confirm whether he would accept the result if he lost, having regularly criticized the country’s electronic voting system. In one speech, he told supporters that “the army’s on our side.” 

“Bolsonaro will tangle with the technocratic aspects of the vote count and mobilize supporters against the electoral authorities,” predicted Mark S. Langevin, an expert on Brazilian energy and environmental policy at George Mason University. “But he’ll run out of gas as Lula appears with world leaders and congressional allies of Bolsonaro.”

Langevin believes Lula will try to subdue the weaker yet continued presence of Bolsonarismo. “Expect investigations of corruption and electoral crimes,” he said. “Lula will not interfere but will appoint anticorruption leaders to the Prosecutor General of the Republic and Federal Police. He’ll seek to tame the movement, inside democracy.”

In terms of immediate economic policy, “Lula will announce an anti-poverty package that includes an emergency cash assistance program along with job creation and food subsidies,” said Langevin, “including an immediate increase in the school lunch program.”

Lula will lead a very different Brazil than his first two terms between 2003 and 2011 when a commodity boom fueled social programs that lifted millions out of poverty. 

“It is necessary to rebuild the very soul of this country,” Lula said in his speech. “Recover generosity, solidarity, respect for differences and love for others.” Brazil has experienced an increase in political violence over the past few years, with incidents involving party representatives and supporters higher during this year’s election compared to the 2018 election.

“Most instances of violence targeting party representatives and supporters have occurred in the Bolsonaro-backing states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Espírito Santo and Lula-dominant Bahia state, as well as in Amazonas state,” according to ACLED, a data and analysis project that tracks political violence and protests worldwide.

ACLED documented 36 reports of political violence involving political party members and supporters during the 2022 election, compared to 28 during the 2018 election. (ACLED via Courthouse News)

On Oct. 29, Bolsonaro-aligned Congresswoman Carla Zambelli and her bodyguards chased black journalist and Lula supporter Luan Araújo through the streets of Sao Paulo, with the politician wielding a gun and aiming at him.

On election day, there were reports that the pro-Bolsonaro federal highway police had set up roadblocks and conducted unwarranted vehicle checks across the country’s poorer northeast region and Lula stronghold. Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes said that each incident would be investigated and sought to calm fears of voter suppression. 

The election was also a vote on the future of the Amazon. Deforestation and illegal logging have accelerated during the 4-year term of Bolsonaro despite a decade of decline during Lula’s time in office.

Deforestation of the Amazon has accelerated during Bolsonaro’s presidency, after a decade of decline. (Brazil's National Institute for Space Research via Courthouse News)

During the first half of 2022, the Amazon lost nearly 1,540 square miles of rainforest, an area roughly three times the size of Los Angeles, according to Brazil’s space agency. Lula has promised to strengthen environmental protections, the rights of indigenous communities and has committed to zero deforestation of the Amazon.

“Lula will discreetly purge Bolsonaristas, beginning with IBAMA,” added Langevin, referring to the country’s institute for environment and renewable natural resources, and the administrative arm of the Ministry of the Environment. “He’ll also announce a package of measures to protect the Amazon, rebooting the Amazon Fund, and coordinate statements of support with leaders such as Biden.”

World leaders have congratulated Lula on his victory. U.S. President Joe Biden said that he “looks forward to working together to continue the cooperation between our two countries.” In neighboring Argentina, President Alberto Fernández said Lula's win marks “a time of hope and future that begins today. Democracy has triumphed.”

Courthouse News correspondent James Francis Whitehead is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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