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Lula vs. Bolsonaro – What now?

Oct 03, 2022

Almost all the votes of the first round of the Brazilian presidential election, that took place on October 2, have been counted. Leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) received 48% of the votes against far-right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro’s 43%. The 5% difference is much closer than opinion polls previously have suggested.

Skewed opinion numbers tend to be the case when populist candidates are involved in presidential elections, as many of its voters distrust the media – this was for example something witnessed when Donald Trump won the US presidential election in 2016. 

The presidential campaign has largely been about which candidate Brazilians dislike the least. As neither of the candidates reached 50% of the votes, Brazilians now face a second round of voting which will be held on October 30. Voters in Brazil have many pressing concerns, such as rising food prices, which have contributed to an increase in poverty as well as hunger, and high levels of inequality, which were further pressured by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has even got extremely violent – three Lula supporters have been killed by Bolsonaro supporters. In addition, Lula and Bolsonaro’s political scopes and policies are extremely far apart, which also point to the great extent of polarization in the country.

Lula, President between 2003-2010, left office as one of Brazil’s most popular politicians ever, driving an agenda largely focusing on combating poverty. His support faded when he was imprisoned amid a massive corruption investigation. Due to this, Lula could not participate in the election in 2018, when Bolsonaro won. However, the charges were later dropped, and he returned to politics, with a continued emphasis on poverty reduction.  

Bolsonaro, a populist who has been described as “Tropical Trump”, has received massive criticism on environmental policies and his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro’s political agenda is driven by further investments in the agricultural sector, through continued expansion into nature reserves and in areas occupied by indigenous minorities. Bolsonaro’s presidential term has been rocked by instability, with ministers leaving the government on a regular basis.penly expressed that if he does not win the 2022 election, it will be because of “election fraud”. If Bolsonaro “pulls a Trump” and does not accept a possible defeat, there is a significant risk that polarization in the Brazil increases, alongside democracy and stability issues. This could not only imply decreased trust in the political system, but also a risk for violence.

Lula and Bolsonaro will now fight for the middle candidates’ voters – who received about 8% of the votes. Brazil may also join the “pink tide” (leftist wave) in Latin America, which has already swept over the largest regional economies: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Argentina. Although the odds are in favor of Lula, nothing is certain. If Lula wins, he will find it difficult to govern as the congress is more “Bolsonarista”, which likely will continue to influence Brazil’s political direction. If Bolsonaro wins, “more of the same” is to be expected, in terms of polarizing rhetoric, neglect of environmental policies and relative isolationism on the world stage. The winning candidate will affect governance in all sectors, from labor market policy to trade policy, as well as Brazil’s international relations.