In a packed hall buzzing with excitement in São Paulo, Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced his pre-candidacy for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections in October.
The crowd rang out with spontaneous chants of approval at the May 7 launch for Lula's candidacy.
“Times are hard,” said Marinela Santana with the activist group March of Black Women in São Paulo. “Many families are hungry. Many are hopeful of today. Lula, we need you!”
Speaking to his supporters, Lula promised to bring back better times. Besides the pandemic, he said, Brazil has faced rising poverty, hunger and increasing authoritarianism under President Jair Bolsonaro.
“We want to return so that no one ever dares to challenge democracy again. ... And for fascism to go back to the sewers of history, where it should never have left.”
“We want to return so that no one ever dares to challenge democracy again,” he said. “And for fascism to go back to the sewers of history, where it should never have left.”
Lula’s campaign rallies for democracy and unity against the far-right incumbent. But Bolsanaro could still push to victory with unwavering support from about a quarter of the country.
Lula has joined forces with former right-wing political rival Geraldo Alckmin, who will be his running mate, in the hopes of winning over more centrist Brazilians.
Alckmin is the ex-governor of São Paulo who lost to Lula in the 2006 presidential election. Alckmin also spoke to the crowd via teleconference from his home, after testing positive for COVID-19.
“No differences past or present would be a reason to stop me from defending with all of my conviction Lula’s return to the presidency.”
“No differences past or present,” he said, “would be a reason to stop me from defending with all of my conviction Lula’s return to the presidency.”
He is not the only one.
The event was also the launch of the Together for Brazil Movement, a coalition of seven labor unions, seven left parties and dozens of social movements all organizing for Lula’s return.
“Today is going to go down in history as the day that we again began the reconstruction of democracy in our country."
“Today is going to go down in history as the day that we again began the reconstruction of democracy in our country,” said Rosa Amorim, a young activist with the Landless Workers’ Movement, from Pernambuco.
“Lula is the only viable candidate for the hope of a new country.”
Lula is the most iconic figure of the Brazilian left.
He’s a co-founding member of the Workers’ Party who served two terms as president in the 2000s. He launched social programs, lifted millions out of poverty and left office on Jan. 1, 2011, with an approval rating of 87%.
But around this time four years ago, in the run up to Brazil’s last presidential election, Lula was in jail on a corruption charge that would block him from the race — despite leading the polls.
Today, he’s free to run.
The Supreme Court threw out the charges against him last year, when it decided that the case against him should not have been tried in the Southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. They determined that the judge who convicted him was biased and collaborated with prosecutors to lock him up.
But Oct. 2 is still a long way off.
“Today, Lula is a viable candidate and he has a chance of winning the election. ... On the other hand, Bolsonaro also has a chance of winning, even if he’s behind in the polls."
“Today, Lula is a viable candidate and he has a chance of winning the election,” political scientist Luciana Santana said. “On the other hand, Bolsonaro also has a chance of winning, even if he’s behind in the polls. ... That’s because he controls the federal government, with huge resources,” she said.
Over the last 30 years in Brazil, no sitting president has lost a bid for reelection.
President Bolsonaro also has unbending support from his loyal followers, who make up roughly a quarter of the population. Bolsonaro recently held one of his iconic motorcycle rallies in the southern state of Paraná, where crowds lined the streets waving Brazilian flags.
“There are 650,000 dead from COVID-19, an army of unemployed, income has dropped, inflation has returned to two digits like we hadn’t seen in 25 years and even with all of that, Bolsonaro’s supporters believe in him and they will continue to vote for him."
“There are 650,000 dead from COVID-19, an army of unemployed, income has dropped, inflation has returned to two digits like we hadn’t seen in 25 years and even with all of that, Bolsonaro’s supporters believe in him and they will continue to vote for him,’ said Luciano da Ros, a political scientist at the Federal University of Santa Catarina.
Bolsonaro actually rose in the polls recently, when a prominent right-wing third-party candidate dropped out of the race.
Due to the country’s polarization between Lula and Bolsonaro, third party candidates will likely play a much smaller role in this year’s elections than in the past.
“The third way is kind of squeezed out by the far-right candidate [Bolsonaro], and the left candidate [Lula] who occupies the left and much of the center. What’s left over isn’t much,” da Ros said.
“And the polarization is even greater this year, because it’s the first time since the end of the dictatorship that you have two presidents — one current, one former — competing against each other.”
The issue of corruption will likely also play a much more reduced role than in the past.
Corruption was a major concern for Brazilians four years ago. The Workers Party lost many local races due to its ties to the Car Wash corruption scheme.
But now, Bolsonaro and some of his family members and associates are all also wrapped up in their own scandals.
“Your average voter in Brazil isn’t worried about corruption. He's worried about surviving. He’s concerned about having public policies that serve him directly,” Santana said.
There are already concerns about Bolsonaro’s willingness to respect the results — regardless of the outcome.
Bolsonaro has long attacked Brazil’s Supreme Court and criticized the country’s electoral system.
Last week, he said his political party would contract a private company to audit the elections, which he said might just be impossible.
Bolsonaro has said he’s not looking to stage a coup, but many fear he may be trying to build an election fraud narrative to culminate in something similar to the US Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, in case he loses the election.
“He is still very intensely questioning the electoral process,” Santana said. “This is not good for democracy and it can lead to some things that could harm the integrity of the country’s elections.”
It’s going to be a chaotic five months. Official electoral campaigns kicking off in mid-August.