MS Risk Blog

Brazil’s Next President – Bolsonaro or Lula?

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The first-round vote to elect Brazil’s new president will take place 2 October 2022. Though there are a number of contenders in the race, only either incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro or former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have a realistic chance of winning. Brazilians face a stark ideological choice between right-wing leader Bolsonaro and leftist candidate Lula. Other South American countries have found themselves in similar situations in recent months as they each took their turn at going to the polls.

It still remains unclear whether Brazil will become part of the new “pink tide” sweeping the continent, as Peru and Chile did in 2021 with the elections of Pedro Castillo and Gabriel Boric, and then most recently Colombia did in 2022 when citizens elected the country’s first ever leftist president. It looks likely that Lula will be victorious, though this is not certain. A Genial/Quaest poll released on 7 September showed that Lula’s lead over Bolsonaro has narrowed from 12 percentage points to 10. Lula has always led in the opinion polls, though how significant his lead is has varied. It has been fairly consistently narrowing in recent months. Interestingly, according to The Economist, the 44% of Brazilians who get their political news from television back Lula by 52% to 25%, the 25% whose main source is social media prefer Bolsonaro over Lula by 47% to 37%.

Lula is a former union leader, who was sentenced to nearly 10 years for corruption in 2017. He was released in 2019 and his conviction was annulled on procedural grounds. He represents the Workers’ Party (PT). During his time as president, he oversaw a commodities boom and a period of significant economic growth. He implemented several big social changes, exemplified by his socioeconomic program Bolsa Familia. It was a stipend awarded to families in absolute poverty. According to the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, one sixth of Brazil’s strides in poverty reduction can be attributed to this program. Bolsonaro emphasises what he calls “traditional family values” and defends gun rights. His economic policies in the past have been geared towards reducing state intervention in the economy. However, in the lead-up to the election, Bolsonaro’s government have implemented a series of economic measures, most notably a 50 percent increase in welfare payments for Brazil’s poorest, that are seen as an attempt to win votes.

Lula’s past record shows what his likely actions in office would be. His senior advisors told Reuters that he will likely appoint Geraldo Alckmin, his centrist running mate, to run economic policy. A particularly important issue for Lula to address which impacts not only Brazil but also the rest of the world, is deforestation. He advocates that it is “imperative to defend the Amazon” and put a stop to the “policy of destruction” set out by Bolsonaro. Fires in the Amazon surged to the highest number since 2019 in August, as it is expected that Lula will be elected and then crack down on logging.

The presidential campaign has already been violent. In July, a PT official was shot dead at his birthday party by a policeman shouting that Lula was a crook and all PT supporters should die. According to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, political threats, assaults, kidnappings and homicides have risen 335% in the past three years. There are concerns that Bolsonaro will not accept the results of the election if he is defeated. The possibility of a coup taking place is being considered by observers. In August, police raided the homes of several businessmen who had allegedly been discussing the possibility of planning one. Overall, it is thought to be unlikely. Vinicius de Carvalho of King’s College London says that the armed forces have evolved since 1964 and will be prepared to work with a new government. It is more likely that Bolsonaro will encourage significant street protests, alleging that the election was fraudulent.