Isaac Lavitt ’25
On October 30, Brazil’s controversial far right president Jair Bolsonaro was defeated after a close battle with former president Luiz Ignácio “Lula” da Silva. Lula, who had been jailed just years earlier for taking bribes, took the presidency with just 51% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 49%, marking it as one Brazil’s most polarized elections.
Lula helped found left-wing Brazilian Worker’s Party during the 1980s, acting as an outspoken activist for democracy during the period of military dictatorship in the country. In 2002, after his third successive attempt at running for president, Lula claimed the presidency. During his tenure, Lula led initiatives to grow the Brazilian economy after a recession during the 1990s. However, scandals riddled his time in office after members of his government were accused of bribery.
Lula left office in 2010, but scandals regarding his administration continued piling up. This culminated in his sentencing to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes, barring him from running for public office. However, Former President and Presdient-elect of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da SilvaLula’s conviction was thrown out in 2019, re-opening the possibility of him running in the next Brazilian election.
Bolsonaro, on the other hand, was a member of the right-wing Social Liberal Party. As Lula’s Worker’s Party collapsed, Bolsonaro capitalized on the wave of scandals and anti-establishment sentiment, winning the presidency in 2019. Disparagingly referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics,” Bolsonaro was criticized for his ham-handed management of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to Brazil having one of the highest infection rates in the world. Bolsonaro touted anti-mask and anti-vax rhetoric often contradicting and restricting his government’s policies. Bolsonaro was also criticized for his policies towards the Amazon Rainforest. During his tenure, he cut spending for environmental science, fired environmental experts, and slashed enforcement of existing environmental protection law. This resulted in a loss of 35,000 square kilometres of rainforest, an area the size of Belgium.
The 2022 election brought Lula and Bolsonaro head-to-head in one of the closest races in the country’s history. In the end, Lula bested Bolsonaro in the second round of voting, with a tight margin of nearly two million votes. However, the election results have been thrown into question by his rival, with Bolsonaro casting doubt on the results before and after election day.
After his loss, Bolsonaro’s supporters labelled Lula a thief and resisted the results of the vote, which displayed no signs of fraud. Blocking highways and roads, the followers have been calling on the military to topple the government and reappoint Bolsonaro. The electoral court leader, Alexandre de Moraes, attacked the former president saying, “it wasn’t the electronic voting that they wanted to replace, but the political system based on free voting. The intention was to attack democracy itself.”
Although Lula has won the presidency, there is still tension in Brazil. As protests continue, Lula will be facing an uncertain future, leading a Brazil that is more polarized today than it was 20 years ago.