Progressive government returns to Brazil

Fabian Hamilton on hopes for renewed anti-poverty drive with Lula

Jair Bolsonaro has yet to concede defeat following the closely fought presidential election in Brazil, the final round of which took place on October 30th. Whilst the opinion polls had been predicting that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), the former Workers’ Party president, was far ahead of the incumbent conservative President Bolsonaro, the first round of polling which took place on October 2nd was far closer than most commentators believed possible. Lula received 48.43% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 43.20%, showing how badly the opinion polls had got it wrong. Some had even predicted that Lula would win outright in the first round.

Some of Bolsonaro’s supporters let it be known that should he lose the second round by a small margin, then the incumbent would challenge the result and claim that the election had somehow been corrupted or ballots falsified, and there were many rumours that the army could step in to prevent Lula ‘stealing’ the election through ballot rigging. But Brazil’s modern electoral system is very robust and extremely hard to corrupt or falsify. It’s the underpinning of a treasured democratic system dating back to 1985 which finally replaced the military junta after 21 years of dictatorship. Brazilians value their current constitution and democratic processes because so many remember what it was like to live under a military regime. Many Brazilians were also extremely worried that Bolsonaro had so often praised the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985 and had, on occasions, implied that he would even prefer it to a left-wing government being elected.

However, unlike the USA, Brazil has a multi-party system, which means that the populist right does not command such a high and broad level of support as it might in the USA, for example, where there are only two major political parties.

Lula took office on 1st January and has been busy selecting his government since his narrow election victory – he won by only 1.8% of the vote, or just over two million votes. More than 79% of the electorate turned out to vote on 30th October. As a very experienced leader and former president who left office in 2010 as one of the most popular presidents in Brazilian history, Lula knows well how to appeal to the broadest possible sections of society in a country which, like so many, is deeply divided. One of his key priorities will be to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and to work with all the countries of the continent which have parts of the Amazon in their territories in order to forge a consistent and viable approach to preserve such an essential, diverse environmental region for the sake of the whole planet. Another important priority is to tackle the extreme inequality which still plagues Brazil and contributes to so many of its social ills including drug gangs, addiction and some of the appalling violence often seen in the poorest districts of Brazil’s major cities.

I last visited Brazil in 2013, just three years after Lula left office and during Dilma Rousseff’s presidency – she had been Lula’s chief of staff and became the country’s first woman president in 2011. What I and my parliamentary colleagues saw were innovative schemes and investment in infrastructure, training and education for some of the most deprived communities in Rio de Janeiro. We walked through the favelas scattered across the steep hillsides of extinct volcanoes which pepper the Atlantic coastline in the south east of the country. They were still poor and dismal, often ruled by criminal gangs, but the government’s community policing, as well as the installation of running water, sewerage and electricity, had already transformed the lives of many of the city’s poorest and most ignored population. Lula has been clear that he is determined to carry on the anti-poverty policies which he started and which Dilma continued.

What happens in Brazil is not only important for Brazilians, but for the whole world too. Brazil is a country of 217 million people and covers 8.5 million square kilometres. It has been an independent state for just over 200 years and is the fifth-largest country in the world by area (seventh by population). It has a fast developing economy – by far the largest in Latin America and the tenth-largest in the world. But in order to achieve its full potential, the new government knows that it must not only halt the destruction of the rainforest but also tackle extreme inequality. 

President Lula and the Workers’ Party of Brazil certainly have the ideas, the policies and the ability to achieve this. We need to support their vital work which will bring hope back to so many.

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