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Guest: Lourival Sant’Anna, Senior Analyst at CNN Brazil

Former Brazilian President Lula revived his political career, squeaking by with 50.9% of the vote against incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. What does another Lula presidency mean for the country? For one thing, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this coming Lula presidency will bear any resemblance to his hugely successful first administration.

Brazil’s recent presidential election was a bickering, contentious and rancorous race between two opposing views of the South American giant. Both men have dominated the country’s political stage for over a decade. The incoming president is a nearly 80-year-old veteran politician with allegations of corruption. He is both beloved and hated.  And the outgoing president is an autocratic, right-wing populist with little regard for institutions or rule of law.  He too is both beloved and hated. After a brutal and dirty campaign, leftist leader Lula emerged as the winner by a narrow margin. What does this election mean for Brazil? Our guest Lourival Sant’Anna, a journalist and Senior Analyst at CNN Brazil and a Senior Fellow at the Brazilian Center of International Relations (CEBRI), joins us to discuss the impact of this chaotic election.

This historic election was splashed across international news outlets for months. We asked Sant’Anna what surprised him about this election. Our guest explained the results, “[this is] the first time [since democracy returned to Brazil in 1985] that the president was not reelected [for a second term]. The first time that someone was given a third term democratically. The first time that someone has more than 60 million votes. The first time that someone has more than 58 million votes and is not elected. So many firsts.”

This was a shockingly contentious and dirty race, even by the standard of our shockingly polarized current political era. Altamar host Peter Schechter asked our guest, “How bruised is Brazil? Or as Americans would say: how do we put Humpty Dumpty back together?” Sant’Anna responded, “I don’t think we will. Families are broken, couples are broken, friendships, you name it. […] No one can simply get rid of that.”

In the United States, the toxicity surrounding elections is getting worse, even sparking violent outbreaks such as what happened to Paul Pelosi. Is Brazil there? Sant’Anna said, “Yeah, sure. There were deaths during the campaign. People were killed because of supporting one of the sides. […] We’ve never experienced [mass gun violence like that] here in Brazil. It has to do with the fact that Bolsonaro has opened the gates for people to have guns, all kinds of guns.” Gun ownership nearly tripled during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

What is Bolsonaro’s role now that he has lost the election? Sant’Anna explained, “I think the parallel with the former President Trump is so evident, so strong that I myself use the US experience as a model for what may happen in the future here in Brazil. All his attitudes and the fact that he foresaw the possibility of not being reelected. He prepared the ground for contesting the elections for attacking democracy and for shaping himself as someone [who] has not lost, and who is supported by most Brazilians. So that he could save for himself a place as a leader of the opposition.”

And back to the winner of this election. During his previous presidency, President Lula was admired around the world for his social programs; some were even copied in many developing nations. Then he was jailed on corruption charges. Now he is older, angrier, and facing a poorer and more polarized Brazil. Altamar’s Muni Jensen asked if Lula was likely to be successful this term. Sant’Anna responded, “He spent 580 days in prison, accused of corruption, and he came out -as anyone would come out -very angry. […] And at the same time, he will face a very hostile Congress. Bolsonaro’s party- the liberal party- has the biggest representation in both houses, the Senate and in the House of Representatives. […] If we had only two parties, we would be in trouble. Just like the US. Fortunately, here there are many parties which are ready to negotiate, to get places in the ministries and public resources. So, it’s not easy, probably very expensive, but manageable.”

So, what will Lula try to achieve? Sant’Anna said that Lula will try to establish workers’ rights again. The new government will be unlikely to pass needed reforms. But the main thing is that “there will be some kind of institutional normalization. Lula is different from Bolsonaro regarding the respect for institutions. He has proved that he is stuck to democracy. And we are in such a situation that people are valuing these very basic principles like democracy, respect for the Constitution, and not attacking the Supreme Court and other institutions.”

In her youth and social justice-oriented segment, Téa Ivanovic asked about misinformation and fake news ahead of the election. Sant’Anna talked about fake news coming from people in positions of authority. He said, “Bolsonaro’s Minister for Human Rights, who has just been elected a senator. She said that the left-wing supported some sort of children trafficking ring. […] She said, ‘that’s what I heard from the people. So, does that sound familiar? […] She will now have eight years according to the law to say whatever kind of [lies] she wants to say, and she will not be prosecuted.”

The big winner in this election was the Amazon rainforest and other environmental concerns. Altamar’s Muni Jensen asked, “What will Lula be able to do to reverse the damage done in the Bolsonaro years?” Sant’Anna said, “Saving the Amazon Forest is critical for Brazil because of climate change, but also because of trade. I mean, both the US and Europe are tightening the regulations and threatening to ban the import of agricultural products related to deforestation. So, it is a strategic issue for Brazil. Lula understands that this is necessary.”

Another question mark in this election was where the military and security forces would stand. Will they support the democratic results? Sant’Anna says yes. He explained, “The command and the high ranks are totally institutionalized. They don’t fancy any sort of coup or anything like that or any breakup in the institutional rules. They have had enough during the military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. It was very traumatic for the armed forces themselves because they lost prestige among the Brazilian population.”

Next, we zoomed out and to get a wider angle. How will this election impact Brazil’s relationships with the rest of the region and other strategic countries? Sant’Anna said, “’[Lula] has signaled that he will remake ties with regional countries, which the relations were strained by Bolsonaro’s aggressive position. Brazil was very isolated. Now, Lula is very anti-American, just like all the Brazilian left-wing. And so, he will try to balance the importance of the US with getting closer to China especially. And he has also been a little in favor of Russia in this war.”

We wrapped up by asking for a forecast. Is our guest optimistic about Brazil in the next 5 years? Sant’Anna responded, “I don’t think Lula or the Workers’ Party have a good idea of how the world works, how the economy works. […] But we are coming from a very dangerous place in which we felt the danger of losing our democracy – which is very young. So, it doesn’t have to do with the quality of the Workers’ Party policies. It has to do with sticking to basic very fundamental issues.”

(How) can Brazil put itself back together after this divisive election? Find out more by listening to the latest Altamar episode, available wherever you get your podcasts. You can download the episode here.


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Episode 138