Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has attacked democratic institutions, downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 and attacked environmental protection, as well as revived Cold War-era divisions to portray opponents as communists.
By contrast, da Silva’s campaign seeks to broaden his voting coalition by naming centrist Geraldo Alckmin as his running mate on a ticket titled “Come together for Brazil” — an attempt to overcome many Brazilians’ doubts about his left-wing Workers’ Party. to his previous links to corruption scandals.
Da Silva officially launched his presidential bid at a campaign rally in Sao Paulo. “The country is going through one of the most serious moments in our history, and it will require us to chart an alternative path despite all the differences to overcome the incompetence and authoritarianism that govern us,” he said, referring to Bolsonaro’s presidency.
Da Silva’s presidential run in 2022 marks the latest twist in his remarkable story as one of Brazil’s most charismatic politicians, someone who didn’t learn to read until he was 10 and who dropped out of school after fifth grade to work full-time.
His background is unusual for a politician in Brazil, where the working class struggled for representation in the decades following his birth in 1945.
In 1975 he was elected chairman of the metalworkers’ union, which founded the Workers’ Party in 1980. In 1986 he was a member of Congress.
It took three failed bids for the presidency before da Silva won the 2002 presidential election with 61.3% of the vote.
He was re-elected in 2006 and eventually left office in January 2011 with a 90% approval rating after lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty during his tenure. His happiness did not last long, however.
After surviving throat cancer in 2011, da Silva was convicted in 2017 of corruption and money laundering, following an extensive investigation into state oil company Petrobras called “Operation Car Wash.”
His legal troubles rumbled until April 2018, when he surrendered to federal authorities and began serving a 12-year prison sentence.
However, in March 2021, a court overturned his conviction and paved the way for his political recovery.
At a bar dedicated to da Silva in Rio de Janeiro, entrepreneur Jaciana Melquiades told CNN: “I’m hopeful for Lula’s victory, I think we have a great chance of getting Brazil back on track.”
Bolsonaro has done nothing for Brazil, said Omar Monteiro, 32, who runs the bar.
“Living under this administration is worse than I imagined because, in addition to the curse of having Bolsonaro as president, we are going through a pandemic,” Monteiro said. “And I never thought, even in my worst nightmares, that we would have a president who is a denier, against vaccines, against isolation.”
The Brazilian economy is suffering from rampant inflation and rising unemployment, while hunger is a growing concern.
“I think a lot needs to change, we need to generate a lot of jobs and income because people are starving, in real need, and we need to improve Brazil’s relations with the world, which have deteriorated under the Bolsonaro government,” said lawyer Andre. Pessoa. †
Yet Bolsonaro’s deficit in the polls is narrowing and the president retains a committed base of ultra-conservative supporters he has mobilized by holding onto what his opponents call radical stances on access to abortion, gun rights and Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon rainforest.
And he has shown that he is willing to incite his supporters against alleged opponents by calling for mass demonstrations outside the Supreme Court during a dispute with the judiciary in September 2021.
Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, said that even if da Silva wins the election, his biggest challenge will be to unite a fractured country and stop Bolsonarismo, as the current president’s ideology is known. stands.
“It won’t be like his first two terms in power,” said Sabatini. “Bolsonarismo, it’s not just any conservative party in the yard, it draws on evangelicals, it draws on very venomous, almost anti-democratic elements and a part of Brazilian society called the constituency Biblical, Bullets and Beef.”
Still, in da Silva’s strongholds, there are high hopes for his return to power.
“May he get Brazil moving again, may he make Brazil flow again, may he make people laugh, may he keep GDP flowing, may he keep the economy flowing, may he get jobs back,” Monteiro said.
“May he make sure everything gets back to normal.”
Camilo Rocha contributed to this report.