Brazil: Lula, elections and the left

January 25, 2018
There is no other name on the left with the stature of Lula's name.

Brazilian professor and researcher Sabrina Fernandes discusses former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s January 24 corruption trial and the country’s forthcoming October elections.


What has been the response of the non-Workers’ Party (PT) left to the current situation and in the lead up to the presidential election?

The non-PT left is divided between the organisations on the left that were part of the PT governments [of Lula and Dilma Rousseff] and its base, and the left that has maintained a critical stance towards the PT governments, pushing for a more radical agenda.

The former are standing together with Lula throughout the sentencing and appeal process and part of it supports him as its preferential candidate, with the notable exception of Manuela D'Avila from the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB).

The opposition left, which I call the radical left, is very fragmented, so its own positions are also fragmented.

Most of the tendencies within the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) are standing in solidarity with Lula for his right to be a candidate, although the PSOL will stand its own presidential candidate.

Other parties such as the Unified Socialist Workers' Party (PSTU) and the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) have kept a wider distance from the troubles afflicting the PT.

Lula has been working his way through the country on his caravan. Do you think this has had impact? If so, what?

In some ways, yes.

Lula is a very well liked public personality in many parts of the country, despite the years of character assassination promoted by the mainstream media. Even leftist critics who have stood in fierce opposition to his policies tend to acknowledge him as a savvy politician and a widely popular former president.

The caravan helped to remind some of the former Lula base that he is still a powerful contender and kept his name in the headlines in a positive light, in contrast to coverage of the investigation and trial.

In the event that Lula is cleared and officially becomes a presidential candidate, the caravan will have served the purpose of paving the way for a campaign.

However, in terms of the trial, I don't believe it was that paramount to build a supporter base to stand with him in Porto Alegre. Most of the protesters joining him in solidarity against the charges are connected to the organised left, especially sectors that have supported Lula from the beginning.

In the event of Lula not being able to run in 2018, what does the race look like?

The race will be very polarised between the left and the right, but it will face a far more fragmented electoral left than at any time in the past 30 years, because there is no other name on the left with the stature of Lula's name.

There is much speculation about who the PT would promote instead, but there is no obvious name given that its sole efforts have been on guaranteeing Lula's appeal so that he can be the candidate.

It's important to say that the electoral right is also very fragmented, with direct disputes inside of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), the PT's traditional right-wing opponent in federal elections, and names like those of [far-right former military officer] Jair Bolsonaro push the spectrum to the extreme right.

While Bolsonaro represents a definite setback, the fragmentation inside the right ensures that his support is limited, especially since he is controversial and hasn't managed to gather enough support from the markets and the main representatives of the elites, who we know influence the media and the electability of a candidate.

Does the PT have a contingency? Is there a plan B for pro-Lula/PT social movements like some of the unions and the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST)?

If Lula is convicted, he can still be the PT's presidential candidate up to the point where the Superior Electoral Court also finds him guilty through the Ficha Limpa law and prevents him from running.

My guess is that the party will keep Lula in the race as long as possible and that, once the Ficha Limpa process is concluded, they will replace him with a different candidate. This will allow the PT to try to build support for Lula as an endorser and to keep the party in the headlines.

It will be the task of the PT and the organisations that support it to take this time to find a new candidate and build their name.

At the same time, with a conviction that results from such a flawed process, Lula may become a bit of a martyr, representing the elites' prosecutorial approach to the left in general and the interests of the people.

Even if the PT governments are seen as not having applied a sufficient amount of meaningful reforms, there is little doubt that the reforms since President Michel Temer became president have been devastating. Yet despite this, from the outside, it appears as though the right-wing is strengthened. Is this the case from your perspective? What would be the best outcome for the left and popular sectors in the upcoming election?

What is worrisome is that positive electoral results for the left do not necessarily guarantee that Temer's reforms will be done away with.

Lula himself made some controversial remarks last year about keeping some of the reforms, while the PT's national president recently stated that Lula ought to prepare another version of his 2002 letter to the markets to appease them.

This is the position of most of the centre-left candidates and all the candidates on the right, which has put the radical left in the position of being as intransigent as possible when it comes to repealing the reforms and promoting progressive ones instead.

The radical left is still very small in comparison, though, and, as of now, it doesn't hold the ingredients for a Bernie Sanders phenomenon that could tip the electoral scales in favour of the left.

A lot of the worries on the left, in general, are that the right may officially return to power in 2019, which would prove even more disastrous than the illegitimate Temer mandate.

What we must hope for is that the left manages to present itself in all of its diversity in a way that presents a real alternative for those suffering from the economic crisis and the deep inequalities that plague Brazil.

Even if there are multiple candidates on the left rather than consensus around one name and one project, the best outcome would be one that gets the popular sectors on the streets again around real change, pushing for a more radical leftist agenda and for parties to show strength and courage to implement what the PT governments failed to do.

Ideally, that would result in an elected leftist president and a more progressive National Congress, considering that much of what has happened so far against working class interests is due to the power of a right-wing Congress in Brazil.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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