Lula and the challenge of governing for 215 million Brazilians

At the beginning of 2023, the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as the new president of Brazil was marked by various symbols such as the handing over of the presidential sash by representatives of the people, after Bolsonaro’s refusal and his departure from the country to the United States. At 77 years, the historic union leader and one of the founders of the Workers’ Party (PT) returns for the third time to the presidency of Brazil, after the end of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, characterized by authoritarian practices, the exaltation of the military dictatorship and important economic and social setbacks.

Lula won the elections with more than 60 million votes, equivalent to 50.9% of the valid votes. Although the difference between the two was only two million votes, the electoral process was marked by difficulties and threats from former President Bolsonaro and his supporters.

In a context of polarization and political violence, attempts to affect the outcome of the elections included actions such as vote buying and large-scale political support in exchange for resources; criticism of the transparency of the electoral system; threats of a coup d’état; and illegal roadblocks and controls carried out on the country’s highways by the Federal Highway Police (PRF). These last actions, carried out during the election day, were aimed at delaying or preventing voters from voting, especially in the Northeast, where most of the PT supporters reside.

In addition, after the announcement of the election results, Bolsonaro’s supporters – several times seconded by police and military – protested against Lula’s victory by blocking highways and gathering in front of barracks to call for military intervention.

However, Lula’s victory was the result of the formation of the largest broad front in the country’s contemporary history and represents the triumph of democracy in the face of the greatest threat of authoritarian regression in Brazil since 1985. His return to power is also the story of resilience and overcoming of a political leader prevented from participating in the 2018 elections, convicted by Operation Car Wash, in proceedings from which he was subsequently acquitted for lack of evidence.

On January 1, despite the climate of tension and bomb threats in the capital, Lula opted to parade in the presidential carriage alongside Vice President Geraldo Alckmin and their respective spouses. In his inauguration speech, without renouncing to criticize Bolsonaro’s administration and the need to judge the mistakes and alleged crimes committed, the new president assumed an optimistic and conciliatory tone. He affirmed that his government will have the task of unifying, pacifying, and rebuilding Brazil. He also said that he will govern for 215 million Brazilians and that he will seek to consolidate democracy and promote a sustainable development model that prioritizes social justice, fighting against hunger, poverty, and inequality.

On the economic front, the new president announced his desire to reactivate the economy, boost industrialization and reduce the country’s dependence by strengthening traditional productive sectors and areas normally neglected, such as science, culture, and the environment.

Regarding international relations, Lula affirmed that Brazil is back and that he will seek to promote the country’s international prominence, hand in hand with the environmental and climate agenda, active and courageous dialogue with the United States, the European Union, China, the BRICS, and other actors, as well as through cooperation and the promotion of regional integration through Mercosur and the reactivation of blocs such as Unasur.

The Cabinet of 37 ministers announced by Lula is a reflection of his political program and the diversity of the country he seeks to represent. It will include 11 women ministers, almost 30% of the portfolios held by women, a record in the history of the Republic, and an important step for a country that ranks 108th out of 155 countries in the Political Empowerment Index of the Global Gender Inequality Report.

Among the names chosen are Marina Silva, environmentalist and Minister of the Environment; Simone Tebet, a former rival of Lula in these elections and current Minister of Planning; as well as Anielle Franco, Minister of Racial Equality and sister of Marielle Franco, former councilwoman of Rio de Janeiro murdered in 2018 by people linked to former president Jair Bolsonaro and his family. 

In a country that has almost 700 thousand deaths due to Covid-19 and that until recently was governed by anti-science positions, the election of Nísia Trindade, current president of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, to head the Ministry of Health is also relevant.

In order to address the serious problems of inequality, representation, and discrimination in Brazil, the new government will also have five ministries headed by Afro-descendants. And, unprecedentedly, the first Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, headed by Sonia Guajajara, politician and historic leader, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB).

There is, however, a gap between theory and practice. The country and the world at the present are different and more complex than the scenario Lula encountered in his first term. The legacy of mistakes, extremism, and exclusion left by Bolsonaro also makes Lula’s promises not easy to keep. The report of the Transition Cabinet shows a process of dismantling the State and the country’s public policies with severe setbacks in areas such as health, education, environment, employment, and racial and gender equality.

It is worth noting that Brazil has once again entered the hunger map and that today more than 33 million Brazilians suffer from this scourge and more than 125 million, that is, more than half of the population, live with some degree of food insecurity. In addition, the economy is in crisis and the opposition, which is the majority in Congress, will govern 13 of the 27 states of the Union.

Even under these conditions, the pragmatism of politics and the need to rebuild the country leave room for hope. From now on, Brazil’s role will be key to strengthening multilateralism and facing urgent global challenges such as the environmental and climate crisis. The regional sphere will also play an essential role in promoting cooperation, democratization, and integration in Latin America. Let us hope it succeeds.

*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva

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