The Man Who Hopes to Block the Ultra-Right in Brazil

By  |  19 / October / 2018

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After a major defeat in the first round, the Brazilian Workers’ Party and progressives are pinning their waning hopes on a second-round miracle for candidate Fernando Haddad. With former Brazilian President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva in prison for “passive corruption” and money laundering, Haddad, 55, would have to harvest the popularity of Lula and then some to pull off a surprise victory next October 28. He lost to ultra-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the first round Oct. 7, with29.28% of the vote compared to 46.03% for Bolsonaro.

Haddad is former mayor of São Paulo and was Lula’s pick for vice president. Before being summoned to replace Lula on the ballot, Haddad was mostly known in São Paulo where he lost reelection in 2016. Polls showed that Lula would win handily if he had been allowed to maintain his bid for the presidency. Haddad hopes to capitalize on Lula’s popularity.

The Lula Legacy

It won’t be easy.  The tropical nation is deeply polarized around Lula’s charismatic leadership, with much of the media against him.

Lula doesn’t have just one image,” Brazilian sociologist Claudio Coelho of the Cásper Líbero College noted. “Some point to him as an outstanding president who projected Brazil in a positive light while governing domestically to improve the livelihood of the majority of the population, but for his critics, Lula is a corrupt politician who has used his power to obtain personal gains and perpetuate his permanence in power”.

Public demonstrations that started in 2013 against a hike in public transport fares later escalated to focus on corruption and played a role in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, a former protégé of Lula. Economic recession and the careful orchestration of her ouster by then-Vice President and current president, Michel Temer, were also important factors.

In January, the Appeals Court of Porto Alegre found Lula guilty of corruption and money laundering and sentenced him to 12 years of prison. In March, the Supreme Federal Tribunal of Brazil reaffirmed the sentence and the former president went to jail in July. Millions of protesters believe Lula was railroaded. The mobilized a movement “Free Lula” (Lula Livre).

Brazilian political scientist Tathiana Chicarino from the Sociology and Politics School of São Paulo, says Dilma’s impeachment divided society, making party militants out of citizens who saw her impeachment as unfair. Chicarino argues that this led to a rise in the Workers’ Party (PT)mas a competitive force, with internal and external candidates trying to align themselves.

Lula has been a figure in Brazil’s elections since 1982 when he ran for governor of São Paulo state in the first direct voting process in the waning years of the military dictatorship. Since Brazil became a democracy the Workers’ Party participated in the run-off election having won it four times.

Lula “possesses a dynamical electoral presence, and is a popular leader capable of inspiring elections for years to come”, Chicarino states. “His campaign has being heavily linked to the political figure of former President Lula. His main promise was the regress to the main aspects of Lula’s tenure”, exposes Coelho.

The Workers’ Party claims Lula is a victim of injustice. They gained sympathy nationally and internationally after the Supreme Federal Tribunal decision that prohibited Lula from running in the presidential race when he was leading in voter preferences.

The current conservative government’s treatment of Lula has been harsh, reinforcing his image as victim. In April, the government denied the request of members of the Senate  Human Rights Commission, former Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica and Argentinian Nobel Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel to visit Lula in prison to investigate violation of his human rights. UN Goodwill Ambassador and Hollywood actor Danny Gloverwas one of the few who managed to visit Lula in prison. He expressed to journalists “I had the opportunity to be with my friend Lula. It was an excellent meeting, though short. I could see that he is pretty calm and confident in the work done by social movements that are keeping up his own work”.

Haddad’s Turn

Lula brought votes to Haddad, but apparently not enough. Lula ended his second presidential term in 2008 with an approval rate of 87%according to the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (Ibope), which fed directly into the election of  Dilma Rousseff.

Haddad is not a newcomer in Brazilian politics. As Minister of Education in both the Lula and Rousseff administrations and former mayor of São Paulo, he’s known to many Brazilians. Unlike party leaders José Dirceu and Antonio Palocci, who are jailed for corruption and related charges, Haddad doesn’t have major accusations hanging over his head.

Lula’s chosen successor is recognized as a leader among major economic players, scholars, the middle class and youth and he broadens the party’s geographical base since Lula has greater strength in the poorer Northeastern region of the country while Haddad is popular in the Southeast.

But Lula’s base has diminished and along with it Haddad’s chances. Coelho believes that Lula’s image “was shaken if we compare the popularity of Lula at the end of his term and those who would vote for him in 2018”. The corruption charges have taken a toll. Surveysgave him 39% in the first round according to Datafolhaon August 22, before he was barred from running in this election, slightly ahead of Bolsonaro.

Coelho says transferring the Lula vote to Haddad isn’t automatic. The BBC reported that Haddad has not been able to hold on to Lula’s Workers’ Party –6.2% of Lula’s supporters are considering voting for Bolsonaro. Interviewed for the British news group, political scientists Lucio Rennó of the University of Brasilia and Carolina de Paulo of the University of Rio de Janeiro State argued that low-middle class and middle class voters have seen improvements in their living conditions overall during the PT years, but were hard hit by the economic crisis during the Rousseff administration.

Brazilians aren’t guided by party loyalty or consistent ideological preferences so it would be surprising if it brought in huge numbers”. He adds that the personalism in Brazilian political tradition plays a big role and makes it difficult to transfer votes from a very popular figure to a scholar with a relatively low profile.

Top concerns include the rise of criminality and unemployment, issues that the hardliner Bolsonaro has been able to use to his advantage.  The NGO Brazilian Public Security Forum reported a record 63,880 homicides in 2017– a rise of 3% compared to 2016. Unemployment hit 13.7 million, with some 4.8 million giving up on looking for a job. These problems and a nation divided by the extremist candidacy of Bolsonaro will put the next president between a rock and a hard place.

Few expected Bolsonaro to take such a decisive lead in the first round. An IBOPE survey on Oct. 15 revealed that the former army captain now leads with 59% of the vote, while Haddad comes in with 41%. In the first round, the center-left candidate Ciro Gomes came in third with 12.47% of the vote. A Datafolha survey from Sep. 14 indicated that had he gone to the run-off election against Bolsonaro, he would defeat the military-enthusiast by 45% to 38%.

After the first round, Gomes decided to take a trip to Europe, frustrating the plans of the Workers’ Party to feature him prominently in Haddad’s campaign for the run-off election. Gomes’ younger brother Cid was elected Senator for the state of Ceará and during a pro-Haddad event criticized the Workers’ Party. Cid Gomes caused controversy by stating that the PT should accept the fact that they were responsible for “creating Jair Bolsonaro”.

Gomes’ party, the Democratic Labor Party, stated in a press release that it was throwing its support to Haddad in spite of criticisms to oppose “reactionary and backwards forces in Brazil and the failure of democracy”. The Socialism and Liberty Party and the Brazilian Socialist Party decided to side with Haddad as well. On the other hand, the Brazilian Labor Party is on Bolsonaro’s bandwagon. Many parties decided to remain neutral, including major players Brazilian Social Democracy Party, Democrats and the Brazilian Republican Party.

Searching for his own identity, on Oct. 10 Haddad ditched the quintessential red of the Workers’ Partyfor the green, yellow and blue with white stars of the Brazilian flag for his campaign promotional material. He also followed Lula’s request not to visit him during the last days of the campaign and focus on the election.