Lula landslide

Published : Nov 17, 2006 00:00 IST

LULA AFTER HIS victory in the presidential election on October 29 in Sao Paulo. - VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP

LULA AFTER HIS victory in the presidential election on October 29 in Sao Paulo. - VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the second round of the presidential poll in Brazil by storm.

LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA is the second President in recent Brazilian history to win two successive terms in office. Lula, who represents the Left-wing Workers Party, narrowly failed to win the election outright in the first round of voting on October 1. To compensate for that setback, Brazilians handed him a resounding victory in the second and final vote on October 28. Lula won more than 61 per cent of the votes polled. His Centre-Right rival Geraldo Alckmin, a former Governor of the prosperous Sao Paulo State and the candidate of the Brazil Social Democratic Party and Liberal Front (PSDB-FL), got roughly 39 per cent of the vote. In the first round, he had polled more than 41 per cent.

On the campaign trail, Alckmin seemed to have a single-point agenda - tackling corruption. A few days before the first round, some officials involved in Lula's campaign were caught offering large sums of money in exchange for information about the financial dealings of Alckmin. The scandal, which involved top officials of the Workers Party and broke out at a particularly delicate juncture, did impact Lula's performance adversely in the first round. Most pollsters had predicted that Lula would win an outright victory at this stage by polling more than 50 per cent of the vote, the minimum required.

In retrospect, Lula's victory was never in doubt. In his first four years, he fulfilled many of the important promises he made to the electorate, despite constraints. When he assumed office, he was bound by the agreements the previous government had made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This, however, did not stop him from implementing much of the social agenda he had promised. He spent billions of dollars helping the most deprived Brazilians, under the programme "Bolsa Familia". Families with an income below $60 a month were given $45 a month. More than 11 million families, constituting one-fourth of Brazil's 185 million people, have benefited from this programme. The government also made serious effort to tackle the power and water supply problems in Brazil's poor northeast and other areas in this vast country, which is almost three times the size of India. The people from the northeast voted overwhelmingly for Lula.

It was the votes of the poor that made Lula virtually unbeatable at the polls despite the serious allegations of corruption that have dogged his administration for the last two years. Brazil has the most unjust distribution of wealth in Latin America. After Lula assumed the presidency, thousands benefited from land reforms, though some critics are of the view that more could have been done. The poor have also benefited from the health and education programmes the government initiated.

Alckmin was seen as the candidate of the elite and the powerful business class. He tried his best to convince the electorate that he would not tamper with the generous welfare policies adopted by Lula, but evidently had little success.

Lula has given a greater voice to Brazil in international affairs, especially when championing the cause of developing countries. Brazil led the Group of 20 (G-20) nations in negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Lula adopted a tough and principled negotiating posture with the industrialised North. The G-20 has refused to relent on the issue of agricultural subsidies and protected the interests of the mainly agricultural South. United States officials have blamed Brazil for being the biggest obstacle in WTO meetings.

In his victory speech on October 29, the 61-year-old Lula promised that his next four-year term would be even better than his first. He pledged that his top priority remained poverty alleviation. He also promised to accelerate economic growth and to reduce inequality at the same time. "We will give attention to the most needy. The poor will have preference in our government," he said.

Under Lula, Brazil has enjoyed steady economic growth along with a budget surplus. Unlike many other countries in the region, Lula has not gone against IMF prescriptions for the Brazilian economy. Brazilian banks have been making record profits. Brazilian companies have invested more than $15 billion between 2004 and 2005, mainly in Latin America. The orthodox fiscal policy followed by Lula upset many in his Workers Party.

The Workers Party has many shades of opinion within its ranks. It was created in 1980 by trade unionists, intellectuals, Trotskyites and Christian liberation theology activists. It was the challenge from dissident Workers Party members that may have cost Lula victory in the first round. Senator Heloisa Helena, who was expelled from the party, ran a strong campaign for the presidency in the first round. The Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSOL), formed by expelled members of the Workers Party, supported her. The Brazilian Communist Party and the Trotskyist Unified Socialist Workers Party also backed her candidacy.

Their criticism is that Lula has not been aggressive enough in redistributing wealth and instituting wide-ranging land reforms. They point out that though there has been a three-fold increase in social spending since Lula took office, it amounts to only a fraction of the money the government has spent on repaying the $150-billion foreign debt. Much of this debt was accumulated during the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. Those on the Left of the Workers Party also question Lula's support for U.S. policies such as "regime change" in Haiti where Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown. They also allege that Lula's strong stance against the West in the WTO and the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is reflective of the agenda of Brazil's big foodgrain exporters.

However, in the long-drawn-out election campaign, there was a broad similarity of views on how the economy should be run. Both candidates were in favour of primary budget surpluses and checking inflation. Alckmin, however, said that he would cut government spending more aggressively. Lula seems more comfortable with "moderate" leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Thabo Mbeki than with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Bolivian President Evo Morales. Chavez and Morales, along with Fidel Castro, are the radical icons of the region. Lula, at least during his first term, preferred to tread a cautious path.

Lula's second term could turn out to be different for a variety of reasons. In the middle of this year, without much fanfare, Brazil joined the select group of countries with the capability of enriching uranium. When he first ran for President, Lula was quoted as saying that "if somebody comes swinging at you with nuclear weapons, you cannot fight him with a sling-shot". Brazil has said that its technology is the most advanced in the world and that it will be able to meet all its nuclear energy needs within a decade. Brazil has some of the largest uranium reserves in the world.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment