Could the growing resistance to the far-right in Brazil signal Lula’s return? – Bia Ratton, PT Londres


“Bolsonaro is trying to destroy everything that was built since 1985 with the fall of the dictatorship.”

By Bia Ratton, PT Londres and Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP.

Since being elected in 2018, Bolsonaro’s far-right government has been the worst Brazil has experienced since becoming a democracy. He’s alienated huge swathes of the people who voted for him because of his inability to govern, particularly in a time of crisis.

Brazil has experienced 615,000 reported Covid deaths. The response to the pandemic has been one of the worst around the world, with the Brazilian head of state not only failing to implement measures to prevent the spread but has often actively aided in the spread. Comments like ‘it’s just a little flu’, ignoring Pfizer’s communications to ensure Brazil had vaccinations earlier than it did and the spreading of misinformation about the effects of the vaccine come to mind.

Brazil is hungry – according to food research body Penssan, food insecurity means 19.1 million people are going hungry – almost twice as many as when he took power (10.3 million in 2018).

Brazil has seen a huge rollback of social guarantees and rights. We’ve seen ramped up police presence and violence against black communities, more crimes against LGBTQ+ and attacks on indigenous communities and the Amazon Rainforest.

Bolsonaro didn’t even achieve what he set out to do economically. His pick for finance minister, Paulo Guedes, was appointed to impose a liberal economic agenda based on Chile’s dictatorship, but failed to privatise Brazilian institutions like Banco do Brasil and Petrobras.

All this resulted in a 19% approval rating, according to Atlas Intel in November 2021.

His record in government suggests that if there are free and fair elections Lula is likely to win the presidency in 2022. Research published in November this year by IPESPE showed Lula polling as high as 42%. The majority of people see Lula as someone who could move Brazil out of trouble in a democratic way, offering a return to prosperity.

One key voting block is the Evangelists. They by and large went to Bolsonaro last time around, but many in this group voted for Lula in the past. If enough do end up swinging back to Lula, it could lose Bolsonaro the election.

Taking this background and current polling into consideration, there are three probable scenarios:

  1. Lula wins the election outright in the first round
  2. Lula and Bolsonaro go into a run-off in the second round
  3. Lula goes into a run-off against a ‘third option’ candidate in round two

The most likely scenario is that Lula goes into the second round up against Bolsonaro or another candidate.

Despite Bolsonaro’s low approval rating, he still commands 20-25% of the electorate. This is because Lula is still resisted by many in the military, and those who strongly back these institutions. For what it’s worth, Lula’s last government actually saw increased modernisation of the armed forces, and involvement in UN peacekeeping missions.

In a second round, it is likely that mainstream media, including the two biggest news outlets – Globo and Folha de São Paulo, would support Lula if it’s against Bolsonaro. But as we’ve seen countless times before, resistance to left economic policy means the mainstream media and the markets would still prefer a centre-right ‘third’ way candidate. There are a few candidates that could be propped up to fill this role.

The most likely are former judge Sérgio Moro (Podemos), conservative São Paulo governor João Doria (PSDB), Senate Leader Rodrigo Pacheco (PSD), and Ciro Gomes (PDT), who is best known for being a desperate self-publicist.

Among these, Moro is an interesting candidate. He essentially got his position in Bolsonaro’s government by putting Lula in prison and was accordingly made Minister for Justice. Ever an opportunist, he quit as soon as the pandemic response started tanking Bolsonaro’s popularity. This means Moro could carry some of Bolsonaro’s core base, but also attract those sick of his way of operating.

Beyond him, the centre right may struggle to unite their forces: currently, Doria doesn’t want to compromise and Pacheco and Ciro are polling in single digits.

Rallying around Moro is still a big risk for the centre-right. If he does end up as the ‘third way’ candidate, but doesn’t take enough of Bolsonaro’s core base, there is a chance that Lula could win in the first round. In terms of media support, Globo would potentially go for Moro, although Folha de São Paulo is less likely to.

As we know, forces of economic capital prefer a financially liberal candidate, or at least one that’s not on the left. But these powers also don’t trust Moro. The left and Lula are aware of this – he has extended an olive branch to the centre and calmed tensions with business, positioning himself as a reconciler.

Strengthening this position, Lula’s vice president might be Geraldo Alckmin, who is a strong political actor. He was part of the PSDB party but as his rival Doria has won the primaries, he no longer has space in that party. VPs can come from a different party to the presidential candidate, and while Doria wouldn’t be interested, Alckmin could join the centre-left PSB and form a strong alliance.

Though it would not be easy to create this alliance, it could improve the chances of winning, as it would show the markets that Lula would exercise moderation in terms of the economy

This also depends on state level governmental candidacies and alliances, with parties standing down candidates in key battleground states like Rio and São Paulo. For example, Marcelo Freixo has left PSOL and is leaving for PSB. What PSB requests is that Lula’s vice is from PSB and that there are candidates for governor that are supported by PT. PT wants the support for PSB for the candidacy of SP. The candidate would be Fernando Haddad. There is a political arrangement that someone like Lula can create.

If Lula and Bolsonaro are in the second round, Lula’s chances of beating him are greater than beating a more moderate candidate who can rally more support across the centre. What is still uncertain is whether the ‘third party’ candidate, whoever they are, can impress the electorate and avoid splitting the vote, to make it to the second round.

While he remains the favourite, it’s extremely important for Brazil that Lula wins next year’s election – so we can’t relax. If the economy picks up, Bolsonaro’s proportion of the vote could potentially increase and we could end up with a real fight on our hands.

Whatever happens with the presidency, the left, centre-left and progressives need to form a majority in Congress so they can play the leading role in the next government and effect real change again.

Bolsonaro is trying to destroy everything that was built since 1985 with the fall of the dictatorship, the guaranteed rights for citizens laid out in the 1988 constitution, and the progress seen under Lula and Dilma. Brazil needs to rebuild after Bolsonaro to save the environment, indigenous groups, women, LGBTQ+, the poor, the black population and other minoritised groups.

But to keep the establishment at bay, this needs to be done while improving the economy and reducing unemployment. It’s the kind of challenge that Lula has excelled at before, and we hope against hope he will do it again in 2022.

  • Bia Ratton is an activist for PT Londres and a member of Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP. You can follow her on twitter here.
  • This article is amended from a speech made by Bia at the Latin America Conference – ADELANTE! ’21, during a session on the Brazilian elections hosted by the Brazil Solidarity Initiative.
Bia Ratton speaks alongside (left to right) Mariela Kohon (TUC), Simon Dubbins (Unite, Richard Burgon MP and Nathalia Urban (Brasil Wire). Photo credit: Brazil Solidarity Initiative

Leave a Reply