On Oct. 30, former president and left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly known as Lula) won the second round of the Brazilian presidential election, beating far-right incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro by more than 2 million votes.
The victory represents a stunning political comeback for Lula, who was jailed for corruption in 2018, a decision which the Brazilian Supreme Court later annulled. Lula served two terms from 2003 to 2010 and presided over a sustained period of economic growth in the country. He massively expanded social programs that helped historically excluded groups such as poor people and Afro-Brazilians. At the end of his term, Lula’s approval ratings reached nearly 90 percent; former U.S. President Barack Obama once referred to him as the “most popular politician on Earth.”
In contrast, Bolsonaro’s term has been mired in the effects of an economic recession caused by low commodity prices, cuts to social programs, deforestation in the Amazon and a disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with the fifth-highest excess death toll according to the World Health Organization.
In Seattle, many Brazilians rejoiced at Lula’s victory. Some also saw it as a win for democracy. Antonio Ribeiro, a Seattle resident and co-founder of the now-closed restaurant Tempero do Brasil, said that “it was an important victory for the still fragile and recent Brazilian democracy.”
The race was shrouded with fears that Bolsonaro, a former army officer, would instigate a coup similar to that which established military rule in the country from 1964 to 1985.
In Brazil, voting is mandatory for citizens between 18 and 70 years of age, including those living abroad. Unlike Washington state, voting must be done in person. Brazilians living outside the country must go to an official polling place organized by the embassy or consulate. Ordinarily, a volunteer honorary consul would help set up a polling location for Brazilian citizens living in Washington state. The position is currently vacant.
Ribeiro said that he and his wife received notice only two weeks before the first round of the election on Oct. 1 that they would have to travel to the consulate in San Francisco in order to vote. Ribeiro said that while they were unable to participate in the first round of the presidential elections, the couple flew to San Francisco to vote in the second round.
According to Brazilian election authorities, more than 310,000 voters outside Brazil voted in this year’s elections. Lula won the expat vote by a small margin of 51.3 to 48.7 percent. Across the United States, most voters favored Bolsonaro, though at the San Francisco consulate Lula won by 22 percent out of a total of more than 4,000 votes.
These logistic and documentation hurdles barred many Brazilians living in Seattle from participating in the election. One person who was unable to vote was Evangivaldo Santana, a Seattle resident and owner of a house cleaning business. Even though he couldn’t vote, Santana still campaigned for Lula by talking to his family and friends back home.
Santana said that his background growing up in the capital city of the Brazilian state of Bahia motivated him to help mobilize voters. Bahia, located in Brazil’s northeast, is a traditional stronghold of Lula’s Worker’s Party. The state has strong ties to Africa, with more than three quarters of its residents tracing back their ancestry to the continent.
Santana said he campaigned for Lula “because I’m Black, because I’m a Black queer person, because I’m from the favelas and my roots are African.”
Santana said that Lula was a great leader: “Lula is kind of like my Mandela.”
Bolsonaro’s time in office was really difficult, Santana said.
“I get really emotional. The last four years were really hard. Especially for queer and Black people,” he said. “Brazil is the country that kills the most queer people in the world. The government really incentivized the deaths of queer people over the past four years.”
Many analysts drew parallels between the Brazilian election and Biden’s 2020 victory. Bolsonaro, a big Trump fan, was the last major world leader to recognize Biden’s election win, waiting weeks after ballots had been tallied. After Lula’s narrow electoral triumph, Bolsonaro-supporting truck drivers blockaded major highways in protest. Election disinformation has been widespread on social networks such as WhatsApp and TikTok, further agitating die-hard Bolsonaristas. Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro conceded two days after the election, though he did not acknowledge Lula’s win.
Ribeiro said that Lula’s victory had global implications for the survival of democracy and containment of the far right. He also highlighted Lula’s pledge to save the Amazon rainforest from further degradation.
“Lula’s election represents the assurance that humanity will have a powerful ally in the fight against the environmental crisis,” he wrote in an email to Real Change.
With a deeply polarized country grappling with economic malaise and the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the path for Lula will be much more difficult than it was` in 2003. However, for his supporters such as Santana, this victory brings a lot of hope.
“It’s as if the sun is shining again after four years in Brazil,” he said. “You’ll hear a lot about Brazil in these next four years, a lot of good things.”
Read more of the Nov. 9-15, 2022 issue.