On Sunday, Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ Da Silva came out as the top contender in Brazil’s presidential elections. And though, he defeated Brazil’s fascist right-wing incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro by a margin of 5%, the election will now go to a second poll since none of the contenders took 50% of the vote.
Many in Pakistan only know of Brazil because of its spectacular football team. But Brazilian politics also has an uncanny resemblance with ours. Marred by military rule for decades, Brazil’s latest experiment with democracy started in 1985. After 20 years of a brutal dictatorship, Brazilian military though nominally neutral in politics, never really went back to the barracks.
And no man has ruffled the feathers of the powerful Brazilian military and it’s supporters amongst the white elite of Brazil than Lula.
Lula’s rise to the highest office in Brazil didn’t come about as a fluke. Born in abject poverty, Lula rose through the political ranks as a fiery union leader in the 70’s. The journey was hard, and Lula probably would’ve left politics altogether, had he not been chided by the Cuban President Fidel Castro. When Lula lost a mayoral election in the 80’s, he was dejected. On a trip to Havana, the Cuban leader told Lula, ‘You can’t run away, you have to fight’.
And fight he did. After losing his two Presidential elections, he made it the third time. In 2002, Lula was elected President of Brazil. He’d go on to win another term in 2006. When he left office after two 4-year terms, his popularity ratings were above 80%. President Barrack Obama called him ‘ the most popular President in the world’.
Such was his hold over Brazilian electorate that his chosen successor went on to win two more terms as President. Then came the corruption scandals of 2016 which rocked the entire political landscape of Brazil.
Lula’s successor as President, Dilma was impeached, and dozens of cases of financial corruption were launched against members of Lula’s Workers Party.
But the cases didn’t just implicate serving members of the Govt. Anti corruption prosecutors also came for Lula. At the heart of the allegations were two properties, a country house and a beachside apartment. Prosecutors alleged that Lula bought these properties with tainted money received as kickbacks.
Lula claimed, these weren’t his properties. But courts disagreed, and he was sentenced in 2017. In April 2018, just before nominations for Presidential elections were due, the Head of Brazilian Armed Forces took to Twitter to warn the Supreme Court of Brazil. The SC at that time was considering whether to suspend Lula’s prison term. Lula was running again for President, and he was leading all the polls.
The General didn’t just stop at the warning, few days later he again conveyed to the Supreme Court that military ‘repudiates impunity’. In a split decision, Brazilian Supreme Court decided that Lula will start his prison term, and hence won’t be eligible to run for President.
The Generals of course had their own man, Javi Bolsonaro. A foul mouthed, right-wing former miliatary officer. To further strengthen Bolsonaro’s campaign, hundreds of former military officers were inducted in his party. They ran for seats for the Senate, Provincial Governerships and the house of deputies.
One former General who wanted to impeach judges of the Supreme Court for providing relief to ‘corrupt politicians’ was given a Governership ticket. Another, who wanted to ‘erase corrupt filth’ was deemed fit for a Senate seat.
There were some unlucky ones too, A serving General who asked for ‘military intervention to purge corrupt ruling class,’ was ignored. He had claimed that Brazil’s 1988 constitution had made country into a cave with no safe exit.
Bolsanaro had the support of the military, serving and retired. He had the support of Brazil’s media. He had the support of the white ruling elite of Brazil. He even had the clergy with him. Brazil’s celebrities attended his rallies, footballers tweeted in his favour. Everyone powerful was rooting for Bolsanaro. Popular social media platforms were filled with fake news or half-truths.
Bolsonaro supporters claimed that all this effort was necessary, someone had to rescue the nation from an entrenched leadership that had failed to curb violence, mismanaged the economy and stole billions of dollars in corruption. Everything was fair in this battle.
With Lula in Jail, Bolsanaro would go on to win the Presidential elections. It went to the second round, where Bolsanaro eased his way through. Brazil had finally broken the shackles of political slavery.
Bolsanaro packed his cabinet with military men, or military men packed his cabinet with their own. Whichever way you take it, Bolsanaro and Brazilian army were on the same page. Bolsanaro had huge support in the ranks and file of the Brazilian army, and Brazilian Generals thought they had everything under control. Bolsanaro even gave a portfolio to the judge who had convicted Lula on corruption charges. Everyone was rewarded.
But having a foul mouthed President, who openly called upon police to ‘Shoot and kill’ to curb crime, regularly belittling his political enemies may have made for good television, it was a disaster for Brazil. Economy tanked, social protection networks put in place by Lula went underfunded and big corporations had a field day digging away in the Amazon forest.
Bolsanaro had never shied away from admitting support of Brazilian Army. In speeches, he’d call personalise it and call it ‘My Army’. But behind the scenes, the Generalswho brought him into power weren’t happy. Those retired Generals put in his Cabinet to control him, started to leave, or were thrown out. Bolsanaro was now bigger than the ones who had helped creating him.
When Brazilian politicians tried to impeach Bolsanaro, he formed a new alliances with politicians he had consistently called ‘thieves’. They had called him ‘fasict’. But to escape impeachment, Bolsanaro would make any deal.
But deals would not help. ‘His Army’ was now looking for a way out. They wanted to find ‘an honourable way out of the trap’ they fell in.
In 2021, Brazilian Supreme Court acquitted Lula of all charges. The most popular and devisive politician in Brazil’s history was out. And he had a new mission. To take down Jair Bolsanaro.
And it seems, he may have just done that. In the first phase of elections, Lula led by 5%. Since no contestant received the minimum required 50%, there will be a rematch between the top two. Lula will face off against Bolsanaro on 30th October.
The fairy tale of Lula’s rise from the streets of Brazil to the most powerful office in the country, is still going strong. But its a rough road ahead, many in the electorate were toddlers when Lula was last President, and don’t remember him or his work. Lula said himself ‘older people remember our good times’ admitting the age gap was a problem.
At 75, Lula would’ve liked to put his feet up, instead he’s now attending a dozen rallies a day, ahead in polls and set to become President for a third term. And those who ‘closed his chapter’ sit sulking in a corner, the most popular President in the world is almost back.