Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Most Brazilians thought he was done with politics—but he may be back. Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, more commonly known as just “Lula,” was the far-left president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During this presidency, Brazil saw unprecedented economic growth that continued under Lula’s successor, Dilma Rouseff, Brazil’s President from 2010-2018, until 2014.
In 2014, corruption schemes rampant throughout Brazil’s government began to be unmasked after an insider testified, marking the beginning of the operação lava-jato (“operation car-wash”). This was a corruption probe that implicated Lula with various money-laundering and embezzlement charges, preventing him from running for the 2018 elections. Even though Lula had already served 2 terms, Brazil’s limit for consecutive presidential terms, he would have been allowed to serve additional non-consecutive terms were he not barred from running.
This newly revealed corruption caused foreign investment into Brazil and trust in the government to tank, thrusting the country into a deep economic recession that continues to this day.
In Brazil’s 2018 elections, the runoffs came down to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, a candidate from Lula’s party. With his party’s reputation tarnished by the corruption scandals, Haddad lost, making Bolsonaro president of Brazil.
But, the 2018 election had the highest abstention rate and lowest turnout of any election in recent Brazilian history, despite the fact that voting is compulsory for most in Brazil. Some political analysts believe that if Lula had run, he may have mobilized and enthused voters, and won the election. This is because, despite his corruption charges, Lula is incredibly charismatic and beloved by many, especially in the more left-wing northern and northwestern parts of Brazil, and won the election.
With the charges against Lula annulled, he will likely seek the presidency in 2022. This will result in many positive changes for Brazil, but some negative ones as well.
Lula Brings Higher Chances of Unseating Bolsonaro
Despite the scandals, Lula continues to rank highly in public opinion polls. Given his legacy and past political successes, many Brazilians believe he would have a significant chance of unseating Bolsonaro in 2022 if both candidates faced each other in the runoffs.
Lula has also done a tremendous job shifting blame for these corruption scandals to other politicians. However, it is unclear whether this is an honest move. though many Brazilians, especially, believe Lula.
Given Bolsonaro’s tempestuous leadership of Brazil, which has been devastating to everything from the environment to the country’s education system, a change from Bolsonaro will be great for both Brazil and the world even if Lula isn’t the ideal candidate to replace him.
A More Moderate Bolsonaro
Given that Lula is now more of a threat to Bolsonaro, especially with Lula’s recent comments about him, Bolsonaro has been trying to appeal more with a moderate crowd to increase his chances in the 2022 elections.
In the past few weeks, Bolsonaro has shown signs of becoming more sane and reasonable, especially regarding the coronavirus pandemic. He wore a mask during one of his speeches, a first since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, he acknowledged the efficacy of vaccines, which just a few months ago, he was apprehensive about.“If you [take a vaccine] and become an alligator, that’s your problem,” he’d said.
Last week, Bolsonaro announced that he would replace the minister of health, a coronavirus–minimizing army general whom he had appointed a few weeks prior with a more well-respected cardiologist.
While Bolsonaro remains an extremist far-right candidate, it’s likely that he’ll find himself competing with Lula in 2022 and will be more cautious in what he says and does over the next 2 years, which will be good for Brazil.
Another free corrupt politician
Brazil has a history with allowing corrupt politicians to go free unscathed, and it’s very possible Lula is one of these. The annulment of charges against him risks perpetuating a dangerous message—that corruption in Brazil goes unpunished.
A Very Polarized 2022 Election
If it weren’t for the annulment of Lula’s charges, there may have been space for a more moderate, less corrupt candidate to face Bolsonaro in the runoff elections. But now, given both Bolsonaro and Lula’s popularity, it will be incredibly difficult for a moderate candidate to make it to the runoffs. This will lead to yet another presidential election where Brazilians are forced to choose between a very far right, and a very far left candidate.
It’s important to note that the annulment of corruption charges against Lula is only one in a series of blows to Bolsonaro. From Trump losing the 2020 elections in the U.S—a precedent to the ousting of far-right candidates—to Brazil’s second coronavirus wave and their slow vaccine distribution, Bolsonaro’s approval rate has plummeted since its high in October.
While it’s unclear whether the overall effect of the annulment of charges against Lula will be positive, it does give some much needed change to Brazil’s political landscape.