Samba, scandals and saudades: the battle between Lula and Bolsonaro





On an uncommonly chilly Saturday morning in subtropical São Paulo, folks wrapped in coats and hats pour out of metro stations and buses, drawn to the beat of samba drums emanating from the historic however rundown centre of the most important metropolis within the Americas.

A dozen associates, most sporting one thing pink, have paused by a newsstand to pose for a photograph. As they smile for the digital camera, just a few make an “L” signal with their thumb and forefinger. The “L” is for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the politician they’ve come to listen to communicate and who, they hope, is quickly to develop into Brazil’s new president. Pink is the color of his leftwing Staff’ Occasion, or PT.

If he succeeds it received’t be the primary time “Lula” has occupied the nation’s highest workplace. Throughout his eight years in energy between 2003 and 2010, a world commodities rally helped the fiery former union chief carry thousands and thousands of Brazilians out of deprivation to affix a rising center class. In 2012, below Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil grew to become the world’s sixth-largest economic system, earlier than issues unravelled in spectacular style — not just for them and their occasion, but in addition for the fortunes of the South American nation.

Eva Vieira, 65, holds a doll depicting former President of Brazil and presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during a protest for democracy and against Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, in São Paulo, Brazil
September 10: a supporter of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva holds a doll depicting the previous Brazilian president at a current protest towards President Jair Bolsonaro in São Paulo © Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

Greater than a decade on, nostalgia for Lula’s time in energy is the dominant theme of the 76-year-old’s present marketing campaign. Brazil has seen a giant drop in dwelling requirements since then, and São Paulo, the capital of its most populous and rich state, is not any exception. Gross sales are down, says road vendor José Fernando de Lucena, 41, who’s tending a grill the place skewers of cooked sausage, hen and beef pile up. “With Lula as president once more, we’ll eat meat, not eggs, rattling it.” Prior to now even these within the favela might eat meat, he explains. Shaking his woolly hat for emphasis, de Lucena says Lula was one of the best president Brazil had: “Within the identify of Jesus, he’ll return.”

There may be optimism amongst his supporters that subsequent month Lula will certainly triumph. Most polls give him a agency lead — some in double digits, although they’ve narrowed just lately. (Ought to no candidate achieve greater than half of votes within the October 2 poll it should go to a second-round runoff). Standing on a pedestrianised avenue lined with palm timber, a protracted queue of his followers have gathered in expectation. The entry line, which stretches for about 1km in whole, passes close to the Theatro Municipal, a belle époque landmark impressed by the Paris opera home, and a balustrade overlooking the gang and stage. Down beneath, the inexperienced and yellow of an enormous Brazilian flag flutters over heads, together with a folky rendition of the nationwide anthem.

Agnaldo Marinho Santana, a 49-year-old grandfather, is one other voter with fond reminiscences. “My life was very totally different then,” he says. “I had a job and residential. Right this moment I’ve nothing.” Santana is certainly one of São ­Paulo’s 30,000-odd tough sleepers, a quantity up 30 per cent since 2019. By his ft he trails a bag of empty plastic bottles, the calling card of the catador, or casual garbage collector. “No one appears to be like at you,” he says of being homeless. “No one will discuss to you.” However he believes Lula can restore good instances.

Victory for Lula would, within the view of many right here, finish a nightmare that started with the election of Jair Bolsonaro, the present far-right populist president. Pilates instructor Sarah Bitar, 40, talking by way of a coronavirus masks, says: “Right this moment there isn’t a authorities, it’s a disgovernment, which is making Brazil worse than what they did within the dictatorship.”

‘Lula’ hats within the pink of the leftwing Staff’ Occasion (PT) on the market on the São Paulo protest © REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

A former military captain, Bolsonaro has praised the repressive army regime that ended virtually 40 years in the past. Since his election in 2018 he has championed an agricultural increase and turned a blind eye to destruction of the Amazon rainforest. He mocked the Covid-19 virus, calling it “somewhat flu”. However, following the deaths of greater than 600,000 residents, a senate committee final 12 months known as for him to face legal indictment over his alleged mishandling of the pandemic (no fees have been introduced, nonetheless). Well-liked with evangelical Christians, farmers and troopers, Bolsonaro’s ultra-conservative views have contributed to the nation’s polarised political ­panorama and alienated voters like Bitar, who says, “We would like a future with out hate.”

Within the build-up to the election, nonetheless, tensions are rising. Critics concern the president is making ready to reject his doable defeat, placing the way forward for Brazil’s younger democracy at stake. Like his political idol Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has known as into query the integrity of his nation’s digital voting system, and requested his supporters to swear they might “give their lives for freedom”. Only some weeks after that rally, a Lula supporter was stabbed to loss of life by a Bolsonaro fan throughout a political argument within the central-west state of Mato Grosso. Lula known as the local weather ­surrounding the electoral course of “fully irregular”.

Right this moment safety is in place however the ambiance is relaxed. The venue is the Vale do Anhangabaú — a spartan plaza ringed by iconic constructions just like the Nineteen Twenties Martinelli Constructing, town’s first skyscraper, and the considerably older St Benedict’s Monastery. Among the many warm-up audio system is Geraldo Alckmin, a centre-right institution politician who was as soon as Lula’s sworn enemy. The pair went head-to-head in a bitter dispute for the presidency in 2006. Even a 12 months in the past his presence would have been unthinkable, but he’s now Lula’s working mate, the 2 united by their dedication to oust Bolsonaro.

Later, Rosângela da Silva, who married Lula in Might and is a fixture by his aspect on the path, dances onstage to a brand new recording of a marketing campaign jingle written for her husband’s first presidential run again in 1989 (it took one other three makes an attempt earlier than Lula lastly made it to the presidential palace in Brasília). Raucous cheers erupt when her husband is launched.

Having taken off a puffer jacket with the crest of his favorite soccer crew, Corinthians, Lula begins to talk, thrashing across the stage along with his trademark power. He reels off PT authorities achievements earlier than lamenting that individuals are going hungry in a rustic that’s among the many world’s high three meals producers. He is filled with oratorical thrives, together with the compulsory third-person pronouncement: “Many individuals thought Lula was lifeless.” Lastly he inveighs towards his adversary Bolsonaro: “The Brazilian people who find themselves sick of so many lies, injustice and struggling — they’ll take away you.”

On the finish there’s a bathe of celebratory confetti and a palpable feeling of confidence within the air. Victory for the veteran leftwinger could be all of the extra exceptional on condition that simply three years in the past, he was languishing in a jail cell.



Two days earlier, 600km from São Paulo, the primary official rally of the Lula marketing campaign happened within the southeastern metropolis of Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais. Its historical past is steeped in a gold mining rush that started across the flip of the 18th century. Right this moment it’s a bellwether state that’s residence to 1 in 10 of Brazil’s voters.

Pulling up earlier than the preserved splendour of a century-old former prepare station, a cabbie warns of pickpockets. “Sadly there are a number of criminals in Brazil,” he says. “Our justice system makes it simple for them.” For a begin, he goes on, there’s the previous inmate working for president of the republic. “He virtually broke the nation, now he’s free to face for election. I don’t assume that’s truthful.”

When Lula left workplace in January 2011 his approval rankings have been above 80 per cent. However the decade that adopted represented an enormous fall from grace. After the increase years the nation sunk into its worst recession on report below the federal government of Dilma Rousseff, with many blaming her growth of state intervention within the economic system. By the point she was impeached in 2016, investigators had uncovered a bribery scheme on the PT’s watch that sucked billions of {dollars} out of Petrobras, the state-controlled oil firm. “Operation Car Wash”, because it was identified, ensnared dozens of businessmen and politicians.

August 18: Lula and his spouse Rosangela (centre) acknowledge PT supporters in Belo Horizonte © REUTERS/Washington Alves

Following responsible verdicts on fees of corruption and cash laundering, Lula was handed a custodial sentence. However then, in one other twist, the convictions have been annulled final 12 months by the supreme court docket, which additionally discovered the presiding choose to have been biased. Lula has at all times maintained his innocence. Within the eyes of PT supporters, the anti-corruption probes have been a political witch hunt. However there’s little question the anger at widespread venality inside Brazil’s political system was a key ingredient in Bolsonaro’s “outsider” bid for the presidency in 2018. His supporters repeatedly cite Lula’s jail time to be able to assault the left.

If he’s to develop into president, Lula will virtually definitely want the backing of undecided voters in Minas Gerais, and even some former Bolsonaro voters. “We’ve got to work rather a lot on the center class,” says a marketing campaign crew member. But on the rally he’s, for probably the most half, preaching to the transformed. Exterior a bar close to the previous railway plaza, Maristella Reis, 36, pours beer right into a pink beaker bearing Lula’s picture. She purchased it whereas attending a vigil exterior the police station the place he was imprisoned for 580 days within the southern metropolis of Curitiba. “Our president was by no means alone,” she says.

Because the tropical solar lowers, Lula’s face is in all places: on T-shirts, flags, baseball caps and towels on the market. Chants of his identify escape like at a soccer match. Lots of of flags twirl with acronyms of the commerce unions and social actions that coalesce across the PT. Most quite a few is the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) or Landless Workers’ Movement, which occupies unused farming land and is the bane of agribusiness. It’s arduous to shake the sensation of being in a leftwing bubble. That’s, till two 20-somethings parade previous the general public backyard that stands throughout from the primary plaza sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Direita Minas” — Rightwing Minas.

Renan and Brenda, who solely give their first names, say they’re right here “to see what’s happening”. They extol the virtues of Bolsonaro: his stances towards abortion and corruption, his non secular beliefs and respect for personal property. As for Lula: “He was president earlier than, and look what occurred.” Out of nowhere we’re interrupted when, just a few metres behind us, flames out of the blue leap from a hedge. “Setting fireplace to bushes — what sort of demonstration is that this?” one of many pair says in disgust, earlier than briskly strolling off.

As we wait again on the plaza, corny pop songs about saudades — Portuguese for longing, unhappiness or melancholy — for Lula are taking part in advert nauseam. Though the marketing campaign is formally simply beginning, he has been on the street all 12 months and it exhibits. An ex-smoker and survivor of throat most cancers, his gruff voice sounds extra hoarse than traditional. There isn’t a walkabout; every thing seems fastidiously managed. This doesn’t matter to the exultant attendees. But whereas exaggerations are to be anticipated, the MC’s declare of 100,000 individuals feels fanciful. As in São Paulo, the place the turnout was affected by low temperatures, the gang feels busy however not teeming. Many Bolsonaristas have argued that the opinion polls are mistaken, pointing to the attendances for the president’s personal marketing campaign occasions, which they are saying dwarf Lula’s. Maybe they’ve a degree.



Within the foyer of Resort Luzeiros, which appears to be like out on the shimmering Atlantic Ocean, a streak of blue cuts by way of the pink T-shirts and black police uniforms. Donning a conventional headdress of macaw feathers, Ozany Tatainy has travelled 9 hours to the northern metropolis of São Luís (not even a very lengthy street journey on this huge nation) for a glimpse of Lula.

A member of the Guajajara tribe, Tatainy frames the election as a wrestle for indigenous rights. Many native communities have confronted growing threats since Bolsonaro got here to energy. The state of affairs is especially stark within the Amazon, the place unlawful gold miners and loggers repeatedly make use of violence to scare inhabitants off their authorized reserves. “For greater than 500 years, we’ve been preventing and resisting. Brazil was not found, it was invaded,” says the just lately certified nurse. She bursts into tears. “And plenty of indigenous are nonetheless dying due to this combat.”

In distinction to Bolsonaro’s previous pledge to cede “not a centimetre” extra of territory to Brazil’s first peoples, who quantity near 1,000,000, Lula has promised to create a particular ministry for them.

“We’ve got two fundamental candidates — one which threatens my folks, that incites much more hatred and racism,” says Tatainy. “So I really need Lula.”

That the election final result seems like a matter of survival for sure minority teams is another indication of how excessive tensions are working. Armed regulation officers stand alert by the doorway of the lodge internet hosting Lula, who reportedly wears a bulletproof vest to occasions (Bolsonaro virtually died after he was stabbed in the course of the 2018 election marketing campaign). São Luís, capital of Maranhão state, ought to be ­welcoming. It shares a lot in frequent with the broader north-east of Brazil. Poor, vulnerable to drought and residential to greater than one-quarter of the 156 million citizens, the area is a stronghold for Lula, who himself was born within the northeastern state of Pernambuco earlier than transferring to São Paulo as a baby. In Maranhão, the place the common earnings per individual is simply R$635 ($123) a month, Lula instructions two-thirds of votes, in keeping with a current ballot.

But even right here you’ll find wariness. “The ex-president is right here,” says a lodge bellboy, eyeing the aides and hangers-on. “You imply the ex-convict?” retorts a colleague.

August 16: Presidential marketing campaign supplies depicting Lula and Bolsonaro on the primary day for political campaigns in Brasília © REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

With divisions so broadly obvious, it appears cheap to marvel why Brazil finds itself selecting between the polarising figures of Bolsonaro and Lula. Every is blamed by their opponents for having a big hand in Brazil’s present predicament. Kelvyn Salomão, a driver for ride-hailing apps, is one who feels disenfranchised by the state of affairs. No fan of Bolsonaro, he says he can not vote for Lula both due to the historical past of scandals. He had been hoping for an unlikely “third method” candidate to emerge nevertheless it appears the previous nonetheless has too sturdy a maintain over many. “The folks listed below are nonetheless captivated by [Lula],” he says.

Their affection is displayed when Lula and his entourage depart the lodge at sundown for a sq. within the metropolis centre, the place sound methods blare as popcorn carts and drinks stalls compete for punters streaming off coaches within the scorching evening. Luan Costa was the primary in his household to attend college, credit score for which he attributes to Lula’s insurance policies, and says the PT introduced electrical energy to his grandmother’s distant village. “Right this moment is a day of hope for us. Hope to get Brazil out of the mud and chaos we’ve been in since Bolsonaro’s election.”

For all its present ideological division, Brazilian politics typically comes all the way down to personalities and favours, particularly on the provincial degree. Given the political tumult and financial hardships many Brazilians have endured in current instances, it’s no shock to seek out resignation typically shading into apathy. Roseana Alves is a Bolsonaro supporter, however says she journeyed two hours to Lula’s occasion with a number of relations as a result of she was promised R$50 ($10) by an area politician for attending. A bottle of wine in a single hand and a plastic cup within the different, she is having fun with the competition ambiance. “We Brazilians don’t consider in politics anymore, or within the president,” she says. “As soon as they get to energy, they don’t do something, they get corrupted, they promise so many issues after which do nothing. It’s unhappy.

“I simply got here to get my money,” she provides, taking a swig of wine. “Might one of the best man win.”

Michael Pooler is the FT’s Brazil correspondent. Bryan Harris is the FT’s Brazil bureau chief

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