Before Lula’s rise, the division in Brazil endures

SAO PAULO (HPD) — Trumpets and drums will sound at the swearing-in ceremony for new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Jan. 1. Then another song will be heard in the streets, one whose lyrics go against outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro.

“It’s time for Jair, it’s time for Jair…to go!” says the song “Pack your bags, go to the street and get out!”

When Lula won the elections on October 30, tens of thousands of people sang the song all night, taking it to the top of Spotify in Brazil and reflecting that many Brazilians are not in a conciliatory mood.

Healing the wounds in the divided Brazilian society will be difficult. Lula has so far appointed leftists and members of his Workers’ Party as ministers, upsetting those who trusted the 77-year-old leader to govern with moderates, and those who rallied behind Lula after Bolsonaro tested the limits of the fourth largest democracy in the world.

“Governing Brazil means reaching agreements with farmers, evangelicals, former allies of Bolsonaro. It will be frustrating for Lula’s half allies, but that is what they face,” said Carlos Melo, a professor of Political Science at Insper University in Sao Paulo.

Of course Bolsonaro’s allies are not the picture of generosity and good spirits either. Many reject the election results and remain camped out in front of military barracks, demanding the cancellation of Lula’s inauguration.

The October election was the closest in more than three decades, pitting two archrivals against each other. In his triumphant speech, Lula declared that “there are not two Brazils” as tens of thousands of supporters gathered outside his hotel in Sao Paulo to celebrate Bolsonaro’s victory and defeat.

A hopeful sign emerged days later, when leftists and moderates once again donned national colors to support their soccer team at the World Cup. The green and yellow shirt has been used as an anti-leftist symbol and proliferated in the marches against Lula and in favor of Bolsonaro.

Lula and his allies also donned the colors in an attempt to reclaim it. Lula published photos on social networks and said that green and yellow “are the colors of 213 million people who love this country.”

Elias Gaspar, a shirt seller, said that the green-yellow ones sold out quickly at a time when the soccer team was playing in the World Cup.

“Before the World Cup I sold, on average, about six blue and four yellow ones out of 10,” said Gaspar, 43, on December 4. “Now they are almost all yellow.”

The World Cup united the country for a few moments, but it was fleeting. Brazil were eliminated earlier than expected on penalties with Croatia in the quarterfinals, and many Brazilians put their jerseys in the drawer. Bolsonaro’s supporters are the only ones still dressed in the national colors.

Lula has avoided escalating tensions, largely by refraining from attacking Bolsonaro and his supporters in public, instead focusing his speeches on ways he intends to help poor Brazilians when he returns to the presidency, a post he held from 2003 and 2010.

However, sometimes polarizing comments slip by. On December 22 — when he announced new ministers — he declared that Bolsonaro is still alive and that there are many angry people who refuse to acknowledge Bolsonaro’s defeat, and therefore will have to be defeated in the streets.

For defense minister, Lula chose conservative José Múcio Monteiro after four years of efforts by Bolsonaro to try to ensure the loyalty of the armed forces.

Other Lula appointments appear designed to please his base and party, such as Anielle Franco, sister of slain Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco, appointed minister of Racial Equality. He also appointed his longtime ally Aloizio Mercadante to head the country’s development bank, precisely the kind of job business leaders hoped would stay out of the hands of the Workers’ Party.

Gleisi Hoffmann, president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, said building a cabinet would be a challenge even if Lula only selected progressives. To further complicate decisions, some would-be ministers are likely 2026 presidential candidates, as Lula has indicated he will not run for re-election.

“We have our differences within the Workers’ Party. Now imagine what would happen if we brought in a dozen other parties,” Hoffmann explained on December 16 through his social media accounts. “It’s a puzzle, it takes time.”

That may help explain why the number of ministries will almost double, to 37.

The centrist endorsement of Marina Silva, a former environment minister, and Simone Tebet, who finished third in the first round of the presidential race, drew votes from Brazil’s moderates, a demographic that has distrusted Lula since the extensive investigation for Lava Jato corruption landed him in jail in 2018. With his support, he beat Bolsonaro by less than two percentage points. Many expected them to be quickly announced as ministers, but negotiations have dragged on.

Thomas Traumann, a political consultant, said the delays reflect the fact that the president-elect has played a central role in the negotiations for the posts.

“People who helped him, like Marina and Simone, will be shorter than if they were named shortly after he won,” Traumann added. “Lula’s luck is that moderates will view his administration as many left-wing Democrats view (US President Joe) Biden: they may not like what they see, but it’s better than the alternative.”

Biden’s attempt to close the political chasm could offer an instructive, if daunting, model, said Brian Ott, a professor of communication sciences at Missouri State University who has researched the stratifying impact of social media on American political discourse. .

Early in his presidency, Biden did not shy away from the fact that he was ruling a polarized country and played on his bona fides as if returning to the era when Democrats and Republicans could fight in the Senate before noticing the dining room. to negotiate compromises.

“The problem facing Biden and the problem facing politicians in 51% of countries like Brazil is that there may no longer be smart strategies to deliver big messages without alienating your base,” Ott said. “We are now in a period where politics is so intensely and deeply culturally divided, where people don’t have to be exposed to different points.”

On December 22, Lula appointed 16 ministers, bringing his total so far to 21. Neither Tebet nor Silva are among them.

“It’s harder to build a government than it is to win elections,” he argued, advising his appointees to hire staff from diverse political backgrounds. “We are trying to make a government that, to the extent possible, represents the political forces that participated in our campaign.”

He added that people who helped and who have not yet been named will be taken into account, saying they are owed a debt for “daring to stick their necks out to confront fascism.”

Still, many new Lula voters are already inclined to jump ship. One is Thereza Bittencourt, 65, who spoke at a military club in Rio and said the initial signs of her concern her.

“I received a lot of criticism from my friends at the club because I voted for Lula. They all elected Bolsonaro. I told them that the management of the economy would be better,” Bittencourt explained as he sipped his caipirinha. “If I only see members of the Workers’ Party in the government, goodbye.”


Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington, DC, contributed to this report

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