Twenty years on from his first presidential victory, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beat far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential election.
The 76-year-old Lula received 50.9 percent of the vote in a contentious race that pitted two vengeful rivals from opposing political parties against one another. It was sufficient to defeat Jair Bolsonaro, whose backers had predicted victory.
For a politician who was incarcerated and prohibited from running in the 2018 presidential election, it is an astounding comeback.
Who is Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva?
It is almost 20 years since Lula won Brazil’s presidency initially. A former metal worker and the son of illiterate farm workers, he became a popular campaigner during the strikes of the 1970s, when workers demanded higher wages in defiance of Brazil’s military rulers.
After three unsuccessful attempts at the presidency, Lula came to power in 2002 promising change. Aided by high commodity prices, he spent the windfalls on areas such as higher education and welfare programmes that contributed to lifting 20 million Brazilians out of poverty.
He has been a political force in Brazil for decades, leading a transformational shift in the Latin American country’s politics away from conservative principles and toward left-wing and working-class interests.
While in office, Lula enjoyed tremendous support. Described by former US President Barack Obama as “the most popular politician on Earth”, Lula left office after eight years in power with an approval rating of more than 80 per cent.
Why was Lula imprisoned in 2017?
Since his time in office, Lula’s legacy has been significantly damaged by corruption charges that left him facing prison.
In 2017, he was found guilty of money laundering and corruption and sentenced to almost 10 years in prison, which prevented him from running in the elections that brought Bolsonaro to power four years ago.
He was released in 2019 after a change in appeal laws, and the nation’s top court annulled his conviction on procedural grounds in 2021, clearing the way for his political comeback.
“How did they try to destroy Lula? I spent 580 days in jail because they didn’t want me to run,” Lula told a crowd of supporters last week. “And I stayed calm there, preparing myself like Mandela prepared for 27 years.”
However, many in Brazil have not forgotten his brush with the law. For some, he is no longer just seen as the “saviour” of Brazil. Instead, many Brazilians see him as a corrupt politician unfit for office.
How did Lula and Bolsonaro’s policies compare?
The two larger-than-life figures who have come to dominate Brazil’s election campaign are political polar opposites.
Bolsonaro, a 67-year-old former army captain, has been labeled by many in Brazil as a far-right authoritarian and accused of peddling sexism, racism, and homophobia in the country.
He has pledged that, if re-elected, he would privatise state-owned oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA and the national postal service, cut corporate taxes in a bid to boost investment, pass pro-gun laws, and make it more difficult for women to have abortions.
Bolsonaro’s tenure in government since 2019 has been marked by controversy, notably his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which killed almost 700,000 Brazilians. A draft Senate report into the country’s handling of the pandemic concluded that he should be charged with murder for his role in his country’s “stratospheric” death toll.
Lula, on the other hand, has said, if elected, he would change rules that limit public spending, reform the tax system so the rich pay more and the poor pay less, ensure Brazil becomes self-sufficient in oil and fuel, and protect the Amazon rainforest.
Climate change, an issue that has soared to the top of the political agenda, is a key dividing line between the two men.
Under President Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged. Lula, meanwhile, has promised to crack down on illegal mining and help bring forest loss under control, as he did a decade ago when he was president.
Analysis by the climate website Carbon Brief suggests that, if Bolsonaro loses to Lula, annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could be down by nearly 90 per cent by the end of the decade.
The next administration will also have to respond to growing public outrage over surging living costs and rising poverty and hunger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Why has the election sparked fears of political unrest?
In the event of a Lula victory, there are fears that Bolsonaro might mimic former US president Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.
Last year, the former army captain said the only possible outcomes of the election for him were “arrest, death, or victory”.
He has stated that only God could remove him from office and has, for most of his four years in government, repeatedly cast doubt about the reliability of the country’s electronic voting system.
He claimed, without proof, that the 2018 election was rigged against him because he didn’t win in the first round.
Despite virtually all polls giving Lula a firm lead, many of Bolsonaro’s supporters believe such surveys are wrong and that pollsters are politically biased.