Analyst at the Fundación Alternativas
Broken windows, painted walls, images of destruction. Memories of the assault on the Capitol in the United States in January 2021 are returning, but this time the terrible scenes are being repeated in Brazil. Attacks in the government district of Brasilia against the Capitol, the Government Palace and the Supreme Court. All branches of government affected. In the second round of the presidential elections on 30 October, the candidate and former president Lula da Silva had won. Brazil had decided to put an end to Bolsonaro’s populism, nationalism and ultra-conservatism. While some cried, others celebrated. The result could not have been closer and, as recent events show, the country is divided as never before.
An even result
Given how evenly balanced the result was, it is worth revisiting the candidates, who probably could not have been more contradictory. That the two cannot stand each other and are absolute enemies is no secret. On the one hand, Bolsonaro, an ex-military man, known above all for his mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis, extreme deforestation, the country’s worsening economy, the ignorance of the education sector and the neglect of growing poverty and hunger, to name but a few. The anti-establishment populist, under whom gun ownership has increased fivefold, who supports traditional families and is strongly against the LGBTIQ+ community, still won 49.1% of the vote. Most of them came from voters between 34 and 59 years old, while voting intention among men was higher than among women.
On the other hand, Lula, coming from a poor background, who fought against the military dictatorship, a former metalworker, trade union leader and “champion” of the working class, had already introduced anti-poverty social programmes in his first two terms in office. With his vision of giving all Brazilians a better life, expanding access to education, health systems and reviving economic growth, he won over 50.9% of voters, despite his time in prison and the fact that corruption flourished during his presidency.
The 18-24 year-olds feel optimistic thanks to his slogan: ‘A happy future for Brazil! Geographically, a clear division can also be identified. While Bolsonaro’s supporters are more likely to be located in the centre of the country and in the south, Lula won in most of the northern states and did well in the east, such as in Maranhão (71.1%) and Piauí (76.8%). In contrast, the central states of Rondônia (70.7%) and Mato Grosso (65.1%) voted for Bolsonaro. One reason for this, among others, is that these states are populated by a large number of farmers who benefited greatly from the far-right’s pesticide approvals.
Attack on democracy
Beforehand, Bolsonaro had repeatedly criticised the electoral system and suggested he would not accept defeat. On Independence Day (7 September), the still-president said: “I have three alternatives for my future: imprisonment, death or victory”. He also called on protesters to equip themselves with weapons. But, contrary to expectations, Bolsonaro initiated the transition process and refrained from contesting the outcome of the polls. The day after the election, his supporters took to the streets and demanded that the military take action. They marched with slogans such as ‘We do not accept communism’. The streets were covered in yellow and green, but it was Bolsonaro who asked his supporters to calm down and stop blocking the roads. Two months later, Brazil is suffering an attack on its democracy. It is not the first coup attempt in history, but why is it so special? It opens up a new dimension: the special coordination indicates that this is not “simply” a movement, but that institutions have also been involved.
Can we expect a renaissance of multilateralism?
Lula’s immediate reaction was to dismiss the security chief, Anderson Torres. But the key question is: what are the long-term consequences of the elections and the coup attempt? Bolsonaro has left the country in probably one of the worst political, economic and social situations in its history. Therefore, a great deal of repair work will be needed on Lula’s part. International leaders express their satisfaction with the new president-elect, and paint a new hope for democracy. For many, Lula’s victory signifies the beginning of a new political era in Brazil, guided by social justice, equality and the fight against climate change.
Does the radical change of course in Brazilian politics mean the end of the country’s global isolation? During Bolsonaro’s presidency, no foreign politician visited the country, nor did the former president consider it necessary to do so. Now Lula is seen as the bearer of hope for the revival of multilateralism. Already during his election campaign, Lula announced his determination to restore Brazil’s credibility as a global partner. “Lula is back! Lula’s intention is to revive old multilateral agreements with international partners, not only in the region, but also on a global scale, as he shares a vision with many of them.
One of the most recent examples is Lula’s own participation in COP27 in Egypt, sending the message that the fight against climate change is indeed among his priorities. The Brazilian president’s willingness to collaborate with other heads of state has been seen as a first step in the right direction. There is also new hope for trade agreements between the EU and MERCOSUR. During Bolsonaro’s presidency negotiations were on hold, and Lula’s very ‘zero deforestation’ policy is clearly seen as a game-changer for discussions. At the economic level, the EU would gain from strengthening relations with Brazil and neighbouring countries; especially to reduce dependence on China.
Finally, significant changes are expected in relations with the US. Shortly after his victory, Lula exchanged first impressions with Biden over the phone. Together they want to tackle challenges such as climate and migration issues, food insecurity and the fight for inclusion and the defence of democracy. Obviously, changes will not be visible overnight, and the unrest in Brasilia has not helped either. But the conditions for further negotiations with other international actors are much more favourable than under Bolsonaro. Without throwing caution to the wind, the future looks brighter.
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