The same man who made history on January 1, 2003, when he became the first factory worker to ever take office as president of Brazil, will star in the emotional ritual of taking the oath for the third time on Sunday. Yet the context in which Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returns to the government –we’ll see if he also returns to power– is very different from the one back then –the passage of time weakens not only the body.
Expectations surrounding his inauguration are high among many of his voters. It’s important to remember that he won the second round on October 30 by a difference of just 1.8 percentage points –exactly 2,139,645 votes in a gigantic voter roll of 156 million–. Thus, among the Lula voters there is a majority of people who are convinced –those who had already bet on the left-wing leader in the first turn– and also people who simply opted for his return out of the fear that Jair Bolsonaro has aroused in them in the last four years. This is how he will have to govern: looking to the left to satisfy the needs of those who have him as their only hope; and also towards the democratic right, which only wants economic stability and maintaining the status quo.
The picture of those numbers, which shows a fatally polarized country, is one of the key features of the beginning of Lula 3.0. An image that did not seem likely at the beginning of a very long campaign in which the head of the Workers’ Party (PT) was flying high in the polls with advantages of 15% to 20%.
Lula will carry out an impressive political resurrection on Sunday, the corollary of a saga that began with his enormous prestige as president between 2003 and 2010, which made him one of the most admired politicians in the world –a recognition he will try to resurrect–, translated into levels of popularity of 70% when he passed on the office to Dilma Rousseff and continued with the programmed and targeted erosion caused by the Lava Jato operation. It also extended with his inability to explain how, after it was proven that his government bought Congress votes through the mensalão, he did not know, could or want to put a stop to the large-scale corruption that petrolão entailed. This, added to the stinking political bias of the cases investigated by Sergio Moro, turned political responsibility into criminal responsibility, without the necessary evidence and without the due right of defense, which landed him in jail for 580 days. Finally, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) decided to take action in the face of what was already a strident truth of procedural defects, and disconnected him from all the cases. If not as an innocent man, it was enough for Lula da Silva to become not-guilty in order to return to the Planalto Palace. The future is a gamble.
To begin reversing this picture, Lula da Silva will need to strengthen social spending. The paradox is that this did not decrease with Bolsonaro –the extreme right also does populism. What actually changed was the economic context. In order to reverse this, the incoming president intends to re-industrialize Brazil after four years of pre-democratic liberalism.
The context of a troubled world, with an uncertain commercial and productive expansion, does not help: according to private analysts’ projections compiled by the Central Bank of Brazil in the Focus report, this year the economy may close with a 2.81% growth, and it would barely hit 0.7% in 2023, 1.7% in 2024, and 2% in 2025. Perhaps the change of model will prove more virtuous to boost activity, allow the founding spirit of a developmentalist Mercosur to be resumed and –on a rebound– oil the bond with Argentina… at least until Argentina votes next October and defines, among other things, whether it will maintain harmony with the new Brazil or surrender once again to policies of unrestricted trade opening and voluntary deindustrialization of its productive structure.
The inflation that tormented families in the early months of the war in Ukraine –due to the resulting sharp rises in fuel and food prices– is beginning to subside and is now projected –downwards– around 6% and 5% next year. Bolsonarismo achieved this success thanks to high interest rates, which today more than double the expected inflation rate and stand as a strong limit to growth. Will Lula da Silva have room to do something different?
The least you can say is that he won’t have it easy. Congress will be adverse to him, Bolsonarismo will nest in the main governorates and the financial market looks at him with a grim face due to his decision to have Congress approve greater social expenditures, above the real freezing of public spending that has been in force since the administration of conspirator Michel Temer.
At the beginning we mentioned the high degree of polarization of Brazilian society. That’s what you have to pay special attention to imagine what’s coming.
Bolsonaro steps down from power, practically fleeing into the arms of Donald Trump to save himself from the humiliation of handing the office over to his enemy. However, Bolsonarismo will persist. The first steps of the new administration will aim to deactivate the camps set up by far-right militants in front of various military bases –notably in Brasilia– to demand for a coup that prevents the return of “communism”.
The intense politics inside the Armed Forces, provoked by Bolsonarism, is a time bomb that must be deactivated. The commander of the outgoing Army, Marco Antonio Freire Gomes, refused to vacate those camps and to subordinate himself to the new civilian power. His replacement –for now interim–, Julio César de Arruda, will have to demonstrate his commitment to democracy. Meanwhile, some 6,000 members of all ranks will be discharged after having accepted positions in the far-right government –in many cases, without relinquishing their military ranks.
At one point, Bolsonaro eased the rules for the acquisition and carrying of weapons, and called on his supporters to get hold of them and resist the left-wing “tyranny” that would ensue. There were those who listened to him. A man was arrested last Saturday in the capital as he was preparing to blow up a truck full of fuel near the Brasilia airport, with the hopes of unleashing a state of chaos and a military intervention. Meanwhile, weapons proliferate in the aforementioned camps and the Judiciary has decided to arrest activists who carried out acts of extreme violence after the election’ second round. Security will be unprecedented on Sunday in the capital of Brazil.
As we said, Bolsonaro is leaving, but he leaves a flaming seed of hatred to grow and give birth to an offspring at any time.