Illustration by Dina Mobaraki

Lula is back. Bolsonaro is gone.

After four weeks of unprecedented political violence, mass spreading of fake news and empty promises since the first ballot round, Brazilians confirmed their choice of president selected on Oct. 2 — Lula is back in office in 2023.

Nov 7, 2022

In a fierce dispute against the controversial and far-right incumbent president Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the majority of Brazilians decided that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a working-class leftist leader, will be their next president, pushing Latin America into a new "pink tide" era that represents the rise of left-wing presidents in the region.
Who is Lula?
A migrant from Pernambuco, one of the poorest states of Brazil, Lula emerged as a union leader in the larger city of São Paulo in the 1970s. With a background of resiliently fighting poverty, Lula built a political personality grounded on solicitude for the poorer and working classes. After helping the Workers' Party become a mainstream political platform in Brazil, Lula was elected and re-elected as president from 2003 to 2011. As leader of his government, he expanded social programs created by his predecessor Fernando Cardoso, which led to an extraordinary uplift in social mobility for millions of families, and a consequential growth of the Brazilian middle class.
With the aid programs designed during Lula's government, such as "Zero Hunger", Brazil eventually got off the United Nations' World Hunger Map. The favorable rise of China, the biggest economic ally of Brazil, and the on-going boom of commodities during that time may have also proven to be crucial factors for the socioeconomic success of Lula's government.
In spite of having the highest approval rate among former presidents of the country, Lula’s departure from office was marred with several accusations of corruption scandals in his government, followed by the impeachment of his unpopular successor Dilma Rousseff who was from the same party. A great political and social crisis erupted in the nation with the beginning of the infamous Car-Wash investigations, when Lula's allies released testimonies about billionaire corruption schemes involving several political parties, the Brazilian petrol company Petrobras, [members of the agribusiness elite] ( as well as Latin American and African politicians. In 2018, after a long investigation, Lula became the first Brazilian president to ever be put in jail, just months before national elections where he was hoping to run for office again. Sergio Moro, the judge that became nationally known for the Car-Wash Operation, declared Lula guilty of passive corruption and money laundering. While Lula's supporters claimed that they were being politically persecuted, the majority of Brazilians were profoundly dissatisfied with the Workers' Party after an unprecedented economic crisis hit the country in 2014.
In 2021, Brazilians watched as Lula’s fortunes changed for the better. The Supreme Federal Court annulled accusations against the former president after hacked private messages from judge Sergio Moro were released, indicating that he had made agreements with the case's prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, and that he therefore was purposefully biased in his verdict. Indeed, after Lula's imprisonment, Moro was nominated as Minister of Justice and Public Security by Bolsonaro, the candidate who most benefited from the slander fueled against Lula and his party. Now, on a wave of hope for the reconstruction of democracy and economic power in Brazil, Lula is back in office as the first president to be elected for a third term since redemocratization.
Who is Bolsonaro?
Bolsonaro was a congressman for 27 years before becoming president. As a right-wing reactionary, he has always expressed deep hostility towards women, indigenous and non-white populations, the LGBTQIA+ population, and other minorities in Brazil. Surprisingly, he supported Lula in the 2002 elections, as well as Venezuela’s ex-president, Hugo Chavez. With little help from big parties in 2018, Bolsonaro was elected president with scarce financial resources and heavy use of social media. He employed an anti-system discourse that relied on the popular rejection of Lula's Workers' Party, promising that his government would be made of "technical-oriented" professionals who would fight corruption and drive the nation’s path to economic freedom. Since his first year in office, Bolsonaro has falsely accused Brazilian legal instruments of being fraudulent, even claiming that he should have won the election by a bigger margin. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s “professional” ministers spread conspiracy theories, from China's "communist plan" to its role in "accelerating the globalist order" through the pandemic, to the distribution of "gay kits" for kids in schools throughout the country.
Contradicting his own pre-election discourse, however, Bolsonaro gave in to the system. He replaced the Attorney General of the Republic and other independent officials to prevent investigations about corruption in his close circle of allies from happening. Bolsonaro has also directed dozens of billions of the national budget to congressmen — such as those from the parties involved in spreading Lula's past scandals — in exchange for political support, through a potentially corrupt scheme, perhaps the largest in the history of Brazil.
Having achieved only a few of his promised reforms, Bolsonaro's government accumulated more scandals than deeds. The president’s image as an anti-corruption leader was mangled by his association with militias, illegal wood smuggling, bribery involving gold bars for pastors, [purchase of dozens of millionaire houses in cash] ( and 100-year presidential secrecy over corruption cases. Arguably, his most outrageous and deadly decisions took place during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro promoted the use of medication to prevent the disease on no scientific grounds, ignored protocols about masks, social distancing, and home isolation, and constantly put into question the reliability of vaccines certified by the World Health Organization. On top of that, the government was caught in a corruption attempt that would have involved the purchase of untested and overpriced vaccines from Covaxin. The negotiations happened just a few months after Bolsonaro ignored several Pfizer’s emails offering vaccines at a discounted price in the beginning of the pandemic. Had the government accepted those shots, perhaps Brazil would not have lost over 600,000 lives due to Covid-19 — the second worst national death toll in the world.
Elections results
As Lucas de Lellis already mentioned in their latest article, both the national and international press coverage of the 2022 Brazilian elections were surprised by Bolsonaro’s strength after most of the pollsters and political experts pointed to his defeat in the first round. The results of regional elections also highlight Bolsonaro’s persistent appeal, as the majority of the newly elected senators, deputies and state governors are strongly aligned with the far-right president.
Despite this extensive regional support, massive campaign funding from the (especially agricultural) elite and great endorsement of celebrities like the soccer player Neymar, Bolsonaro did not make his way to another four-year term. Instead, he became the first president not to get re-elected in the history of Brazil. On Lula's end, a big coalition of academic, business, and political leaders came together in a collective effort to stop Bolsonaro's constant threats against democracy.
One may draw historical parallels between the multi-spectrum political coalition settled in Lula's candidacy and the coalition formed during the "Diretas Já!" movement that took the latest Brazilian military dictatorship down in 1985. However, it is still not clear whether the Workers' Party will be able to cross the boundaries of polarization for as much time as "Diretas Já".
Polarization as never seen before: the fiercest election since redemocratization
The country is divided. The count gap between Lula and Bolsonaro was only about two million votes and, given the political climate of the country, an intense polarization may become harder to get over in the future. During the last weeks, Brazilians were flooded with unprecedented political violence, mass spreading of fake news from both candidates. According to the latest polls, 50% of Brazilians would never vote for Bolsonaro, while 46% reject Lula.
What awaits Lula
Closer to this year’s elections, Bolsonaro gave up on the few principles of economic liberalism that were left in his government and instead [sought out last-minute popular support through poorly-designed social aid programs] ( The current government will leave an economic bomb for Lula. Henrique Meirelles, one of the greatest economists of the country, has already warned that there are high chances of Brazil going through an economic crisis similar to the one experienced in 2014. Back then, the record unemployment rate and striking inflation led to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, a former president who was also from Lula's Workers' Party. In other sectors, the future is not very hopeful: after four years of major cutoffs in the Ministries of Education, Health, Environment, Human Rights, and more, the next president will not be able to advance public policies because they were either discontinued or regressed. Millions of kids have been out of school since the start of the pandemic. The discontinuation of vaccination campaigns that Brazil was once well known for is leading to the comeback of old threats, like the re-emergence of polio in the North region of the country. The Amazon rainforest, an essential asset for global environment and biodiversity, is close to its tipping point as deforestation protocols were eased by the incumbent government. The next government will need to work hard to recover the Brazilian state.
The rise of far-right populists became a worldwide phenomenon of recent decades, from the United States to Hungary. With the possibility of a Bolsonaro returning in 2026 elections, Lula will need to prove the value of democracy for all Brazilian citizens as he tries to recover his democratic image.
Political Renewal
While Brazilians elected some of the first indigenous and transgender members of the Congress, the results of elections in general look like a déjà vu of the last 30 years of our history. White, cis, male, Christian, elder, millionaire, and poorly-educated continue to be the adjectives that best describe a big part of the politicians of such a diverse country. Brazilians are faced with important questions: Are these faces the best representation of what the country wants for its future? Will the younger generations be content with a government mostly made of the same people that they have been watching on the TV for the last decades?
It does not come as a surprise that [76% of Brazilian teenagers want to leave the country] (,10%2F2022%20%2D%20Mercado%20%2D%20Folha). This generation saw the "country of the future" become an international shame due to corruption scandals led by politicians that do not even look like them. Young people struggle to find a common ground: an element that makes us Brazilians.
Leonardo Dias is a Contributing Writer. Email them at
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