Presidential elections are always a time for profound change, yet for Brazil’s 2022 presidential election, the options may be between the incumbent and a man who was last president a decade ago. In October 2022, Brazilian citizens will vote for a president, their current being right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro. Set to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (aka Lula), who rose from rural poverty to be Brazil’s first working class president in 2003.
Lula, and his party Partido dos Trabalhadores (English: Workers’ Party), was elected as part of the ‘pink-tide’ in Latin America, a wave of left wing governments elected in the region at the turn of the century. Lula is a former shoeshine boy, steelworker and trade union leader who was president from 2003-2011. Lula has announced he will run again in 2022, although this is not the first time he has attempted to do so since 2011. In 2018, Lula was forced out of the election won by incumbent Jair Bolsonaro due to corruption charges. He was charged with taking bribes as part of a multi-billion dollar corruption scheme with state run oil company Petrobas. Sergio Moro, the right-wing judge who jailed Lula and then joined Bolsonaro’s cabinet, has been deemed to have treated him unfairly during the trial, leading to Lula’s release from prison and his joining of the presidential race.
Why does Lula present a challenge to Bolsonaro?
Lula has labelled the upcoming election as a choice between ‘fascism and democracy’. Although perhaps an overstatement, Bolsonaro’s politics are worrying for those who value human rights and the rule of law. Bolsonaro has praised Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1965 – 1985 (a regime which Lula campaigned to end). Since Bolsonaro assumed office, Brazil has dropped on important parameters such as democracy, media freedom, poverty, hunger, per capita income, and life expectancy. This, amongst other things, is diminishing his popularity.
Lula is also showing himself to be adaptable in his bid for power, as he has met with long-term opposition Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Cardoso was president from 1995 – 2002, and his party Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (English: Social Democracy Party) competed with Lula’s Workers’ Party for power in the years following the military dictatorship. Below these long-time political opponents are pictured fist bumping, showing Lula’s appeal to the centre upon his return to Brazilian politics. This may be a bid to win over centrist voters who turned their back on Lula following the corruption scandal. There is evidence this may be working, as some polls suggest Lula would win an election against Bolsonaro. However, nothing is certain, as there are others planning to run for president, and a full list has not yet been confirmed. One thing that we can be sure of is the role that Covid-19 will play in this election.
Bolsonaro’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been disastrous. He initially called it a ‘little flu’, dismissed the wearing of masks, and cast doubt on the importance of vaccines. This blatant disregard for scientific evidence has led to Covid-19 killing over 500,000 Brazilians. Lula has labelled Bolsonaro a son of Satan and has called his covid response ‘genocidal’. Brazil’s supreme court is conducting a criminal investigation to determine whether Bolsonaro has been negligent in his public duty by failing to report to police allegations of corruption in procuring 20 million covid vaccines. Saturday July 25th saw mass protests against Bolsonaro and calls for his impeachment from a public who are coping with incredible loss and political incompetence. They are rightly angry at Bolsanaro’s leadership, although there is a chance the current president may not relinquish power when it is time to do so.
What does this mean for Brazilian politics?
Obviously aware of his perilous political position, Bolsonaro has recently stated that electronic voting has been used to rig elections in the past, and that receipts will be needed in October 2022 to prevent voter fraud. Bolsonaro stated “either we have clean elections or we don’t have elections”, which hints to an explosive outcome similar to the US Presidential Election in 2020. There has been no evidence of voting irregularities in Brazil, and the Senate president has called any attempt to prevent the election a ‘dereliction of duty’ that violates the constitution.
Tensions in Brazil are only going to rise as the election draws nearer. As a country that has had a turbulent relationship with democracy and has suffered a horrific pandemic due to political incompetence, Brazilians deserve a safe transition of power if this is what they vote for. International organisations and foreign governments must send a message to Bolsonaro that democratic repression would be unacceptable, to stand with the people of Brazil.
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