Brazil: the return of Lula, a high-risk challenge for Bolsonaro

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Rio de Janeiro | A titanic duel with Lula in the Brazilian presidential election in 2022 may seem like a godsend for a constant confrontation Jair Bolsonaro, but the old lion on the left remains a formidable opponent nonetheless.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did not wait long to go on the attack: on Wednesday, speaking for the first time in public since he recovered his political rights, he fired red balls on the president of far right.

And the former trade unionist has decided to press on a sensitive point: the calamitous management of the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 273,000 people in Brazil, lambasting the “stupid decisions” of the Bolsonaro government.

A few hours later, the Head of State surprised everyone by wearing a mask during an official ceremony, he who had multiplied public appearances with his face uncovered.

Jair Bolsonaro praised the “seriousness and responsibility” of his government in the face of the health crisis, before promulgating a law facilitating the acquisition of vaccines.

A shame for this leader who assured that he would not be vaccinated and was ironic about supposed side effects likely to “turn people into crocodiles”.

Already the Lula effect? Barring a new judicial coup, the former left-wing president (2003-2010) is eligible to run for a third term, after the cancellation on Monday by a judge of the Supreme Court of all his convictions for corruption.

A real rebirth for this charismatic tribune of 75 years, who had spent 18 months in prison from April 2018 to November 2019 and had watched helplessly, from his cell, at the election of Jair Bolsonaro two and a half years ago.

And even if he has not yet officially announced his candidacy, the former turner-miller has clearly shown himself as the leader of the opposition.


Enough to rekindle the deep divisions of an already ultra-polarized Brazilian society, a fertile ground for the far-right speech of Jair Bolsonaro.

“Bolsonaro is a politician forged in the flames of confrontation. He needs an enemy and dreamed of Lula’s return to the arena, ”said Marcio Coimbra, political scientist from Mackenzie University in Brasilia.

Far from official ceremonies, in his weekly direct on Facebook, he did not hesitate to call Lula a “con” or “carrion” on Thursday.

But his change of speech on the importance of vaccines shows that he seems willing to pour water into his wine, in an attempt to bring the centrist electorate back to him.

He also hopes to reassure the business community, who supported him against the left in 2018, seduced by his ultra-liberal economic program, but who are worried about seeing the vaccination slip because of the lack of mobilization of the government to acquire doses.

Even if the message may seem confusing to its hard core of more extremist supporters, “you cannot win votes by being against the vaccine,” Michael Mohallem, professor of law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told AFP.

“It is less risky for him to look like a weather vane than to pay the price for anti-vaccine talk,” he continues.

Bolsonaro “more radical”

Like the former US President Donald Trump, of whom he is a fervent admirer, Jair Bolsonaro, 65, will have a serious handicap to overcome if he wants to be re-elected: he can no longer present himself as an outsider. , an anti-system candidate.

“It is no longer a novelty,” insists Mr. Mohallem, who also thinks that the ultra-aggressive speech and the repeated slippages could harm the outgoing president in a possible duel with Lula.

“Bolsonaro seems more radical, and Lula more mature and reasonable,” he concludes.

But Lula remains a scarecrow for those hoping for a third way, with a candidate capable of refocusing the debates away from a duel of extremes.

The daily Estado de Sao Paulo thus called in an editorial for the emergence of a candidate “who speaks to voters who are tired of both Lula’s corruption and Bolsonaro’s folly”.

But, among half a dozen suitors, no centrist candidate has emerged for the moment to disturb the duel of titans expected in 2022.