ASHRAF PATEL argues that in a world fractured by race, class, cultural-religious divisions, and the climate crises, Lula da Silva’s victory this week was refreshing for Brazil, Latin America and the world.
LULA is back!
It was twenty years ago in October 2002 to the month that one Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a metalworker and union leader, became President of Brazil. After two attempts in the 1990s at the Presidency, Lula finally ascended on a broad-based working-class ticket. A decade plus of the ‘Lula moment’ saw mass expansion of social development and social cohesion, with huge poverty programmes that saw Brazil takings its place in Latin America and the community of nations.
However, this 2022 election was the closest in Brazil’s history. The vote also marked the first time that the sitting president failed to win re-election. Just over two million votes separated the two candidates. Lula thus presides over a divided nation and has his work cut out.
The incumbent president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, in his brash right-wing mode, launched multiple attacks on institutions via the wide scale abuse of social media that polarised the nation leading to public violence. Many organisations were subjected to a wave of state-sanctioned oppression from supporters of the new government. The disastrous mismanagement of the COVID crisis saw almost a million Brazilians dying and with Bolsonaro’s denial and mismanagement, the country was disproportionately affected by the effects of the pandemic.
Yet Bolsonaro managed to garner 49% of the vote.
This signifies that national populism is still a potent force. A Lula administration needs to work towards boosting economic growth and re-building institutions; and being an inclusive president. Lula would be cognisant that any economic downturn – such as the one in 2012 – would once again open the door for the privileged classes to shore up support across the social and economic spectrum, opening the doors to populism, lawfare, social media storms and disinformation that can reverse this democratic gains.
The close election result shows deep divisions in Brazilian society, split along class, race, regional and religious evangelical lines. The close election victory may also mean that Lula will of necessity be prudent and tread carefully with his reform agenda. Some have criticised Lula for ‘mainstreaming his policies’ to appease the power structure
Significantly, Lula’s victory also comes atop a new ‘left red tide’ sweeping Latin America from the north to the south.
A solid and strong left social democratic momentum is taking root in Latin America with Chile under young Gabriel Boric, Colombia being led by Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing president in its history and Francia Marquez as the country’s first black vice president, and the left-leaning Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico.
At a geo-political level, Lula’s victory is also is boost for BRICS, and the broadly developing south, as well as Africa. A post-COVID global economy in the doldrums requires much needed multilateral reforms at the UN and G20, especially regarding developing finance, infrastructure, access to IP and technology transfer, particularly regarding pandemics and climate technologies.
Also significant is that most global leaders have warmly congratulated Lula, from all the BRICS nations as well as US president Joe Biden. In this milieu Lula, an advocate for multi-lateralism is a welcome boost, and can even be a mediating force and voice in a world ruptured by complex geo-political schisms.
A Lula administration is also bound to revive the historical solidarity with many nations in the Global south, including Cuba, Palestine and South Africa. Lula is likely revive the Afro-Brazil relations that characterised his previous term of office seeing better solidarity partnerships rooted in social justice. Revived discussions on slavery and the need for reparations at the UN level could be again on the agenda.
Another ray of light and hope would be Lula’s presence in global forums such as the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), where a fair deal for a just transition is required; one that recognises the rights and level of development of ‘differing responsibilities’ for developing nations.
By committing to protect the Amazon – the lung of the world – and halt the rampant deforestation and mining that were so rife under the Bolsonaro administration, Lula and his Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) have won significant global admiration.
Finally, Lula is a born fighter for the working class and the poor and a visionary for a socially just society and world order. His complex journey from worker to union leader to president, to prisoner and again president, is one of heroic proportions. In a world fractured by race, class, cultural-religious divisions, and the climate crises, Lula da Silva’s victory in the presidential run-off on Sunday October 30 is refreshing for Brazil, for Latin America and the world.
Ashraf Patel is Senior Research Associate: Digital Economy with the Institute of Global Dialogue (IGD) in Johannesburg.