Lula Government – ​​Year I – politics

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By LISZT VIEIRA*

Conciliation as a strategy is nothing new. Lula adopted this strategy in his previous governments, but now there is a fundamental difference

At the end of the first year of the Lula government, in addition to the reestablishment of the democratic climate, the 3% growth in GDP and progress in social programs, such as Bolsa Família, credit, SUS, etc., gained prominence. In other areas, the government is failing, such as education, subject to the influence of the Leman Foundation, mines and energy, which proposes Brazil's entry into OPEC, in direct confrontation with Brazil's environmental policy, as well as tourism and several other ministries that still They didn't say what they came for.

It is not our objective here to take stock of the current government. Some will highlight the priority given to international politics, where Lula undoubtedly shone, despite Brazil's limited weight in world politics. Lula visited 25 countries, was applauded at the UN and assumed the rotating presidency of Mercosur and the G-20. Domestically, he reduced deforestation in the Amazon, although it increased in the Cerrado, increased childhood vaccination, reversing the previous trend, and revoked arms decrees. But, despite the numerous concessions to Centrão, it suffered defeats in the Legislature such as the increase in parliamentary amendments, cuts in funds from the PAC and Farmácia Popular.

As GDP is an economic indicator, and does not take into account quality of life, to analyze a government's performance it is important to use the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals as a reference for judgment. As they are always ignored by the media, we think it is important to remember these objectives here: Eradication of poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent employment and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduction of inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; combating climate change; life underwater; life on earth; peace, justice and strong institutions; partnerships towards goals.

On the other hand, many political analysts will focus on the action of the STF, which has so far only condemned 25 people out of 1.400 accused of participating in the coup attempt on January 8th. Not to mention that so far no general or high-ranking military officer involved in the terrorist action on January 8 has been arrested. Former president Jair Bolsonaro himself, who committed several crimes in broad daylight, has so far only suffered one electoral conviction due to his ineligibility.

Another issue that will challenge the political system is the role of Artificial Intelligence in the multiplication of fake news in electoral campaigns. There would be a lot to be said, in several areas, but we will focus here on the political use of conciliation as a governance instrument.

Everything indicates that the Lula government will face enormous difficulties in obtaining public resources to invest in infrastructure and the social area. On 22/12, Congress approved the 2024 Budget with zero deficit and a cut in the PAC, forcing the Government to reduce expenditure on minimum wages. “Austericide” prevailed, the so-called fiscal austerity that limits public spending to avoid a deficit.

This decision will strangle the Government, despite the increase in revenue from the taxation of investments in tax havens, called offshore. According to Congress' decision, the increase in expenditure would have to be lower than the increase in revenue, guaranteeing a zero deficit. Furthermore, the Budget approved by the Chamber of Deputies increased the electoral fund and cut PAC investments by 6 billion.

For parliamentary amendments, the Government proposed R$37,6 billion, R$53 billion were approved. For the Electoral Fund, the Government proposed R$939,3 million, R$4,9 billion were approved. The increase in funds for parliamentary amendments occurs in a context of semi-parliamentaryism that pressures the Executive Branch, a minority in Parliament, to make alliances and concessions that strengthen the Legislature and weaken the government.

On the economic front, Minister Fernando Haddad reconciles with the market and proposes zero deficit, the golden dream of neoliberalism and a fatal measure for the country's development. On a political level, President Lula reconciles with the right in Congress, the Centrão, and appoints representatives of this physiological right to high positions in the State apparatus. For the 2024 municipal elections, these right-wing politicians will support their candidates, generally in opposition to the candidates launched by parties supporting the government.

Conciliation as a strategy is nothing new. Lula adopted this strategy in his previous governments, but now there is a fundamental difference. In the Lula 1 and Lula 2 governments, Congress did not have the political strength it has today, and the Executive was stronger. It was after the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, led by the infamous deputy Eduardo Cunha, that Congress acquired greater political reach.

But it was under Jair Bolsonaro's government, which left the secret budget in the hands of Centrão and its leader Arthur Lira, that Congress consolidated its power. For four years, the Centrão leader was autonomous to “govern” the country by distributing budget funds, while Jair Bolsonaro rode a motorcycle with his followers. In a reversal of roles, deputy Arthur Lira was the emperor, and the president was a kind of incitement, a horse transformed not into a senator, but into a president.

The conciliation strategy brings some gains, of course. Perhaps the biggest of them was the Tax Reform, promulgated in a solemn session on 20/12, in the presence of the President of the Republic. The approved law provides for the unification of five taxes, there will be no distinction between products and services, and cascading taxes will end. The consumer will know exactly how much they pay to governments. The next step is regulation, which requires the approval, within 180 days, of complementary laws.

The general objective is to simplify taxation, for companies and citizens in general. In the discussion on the regulation of the current tax reform, conflicts of interest will be intense. After all, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. But the newly approved law only dealt with taxes on consumption. This reform does not affect assets and wealth. Income taxation was left for a later stage.

There are many positive expectations for the government in 2024. Minister Rui Costa promised “a year of achievements in infrastructure” and admitted that the government needs a brand. The current government's lack of a political identity has already been criticized. It is natural, however, that in the first year the government dedicated itself to throwing away the institutional rubbish of Bolsonarism that strangled the possibility of efficient public management. Some said that six months would be enough, but, driven by the Christmas spirit, we will accept a 1-year deadline for clearing the land.

There are many obstacles ahead. The representatives of the right, appointed to Ministries and high positions in the State apparatus, in order to guarantee a parliamentary majority, will greatly hinder the possibility of future achievements by the current government. Conciliation has its gains, but the price to pay will be high. In addition to administrative achievements, threatened by Ministries occupied by the right, and also by the incompetence of some appointed by parties supporting the Government, conciliation with the market generates serious consequences. One of the main ones is the paralysis of development due to the imposition of zero deficit.

A possible significant increase in GDP could lead to an appreciation of shares on the stock market or even a certain fall in the dollar, but these benefits, if they occur, would not reach the majority of the population, more affected by the price indices of food, housing, minimum and average wage, transportation, employment, health insurance, etc.

The government finds itself at a crossroads. On the one hand, conciliation is perceived as a condition for the possibility of governing. On the other hand, conciliation entails deleterious political, economic and administrative consequences, more serious than the contradictions that Lula encountered in his previous governments. It is true that Lula is a master in the art of political negotiation. But the horizon is bleak, with the advent of a true fascist international, strengthened with Javier Milei in Argentina and with Donald Trump's approval ratings higher than Joe Biden's, weakened for several reasons, including the USA's unrestricted support for genocide in Palestine.

In Brazil, the possibility is not excluded that, even with positive results from the current government, the right-wing will win the next elections. A good thermometer will be the 2024 municipal elections. But, through concessions to right-wing sectors entrenched in the government and conciliation with the market, barring public investment essential for development, the storms could be greater than the calm.

In addition to the firm support of the market with its neoliberal playbook, the victories of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 and Javier Milei in 2023 show that the fascist discourse mobilizes the disorganized mass more, fighting the “system” and offering false immediate solutions, than the old and decadent discourse of democracy, even in its tired social democratic variant.

Could the conciliation of the current government, today considered necessary to guarantee governability, tomorrow pave the way for the victory of the right in the next election? In this case, would a good Lula government be just a Pyrrhic victory, paving the way for a democracy without political freedoms and with the market as its only reference? I leave doubt in the air, which, as we know, is often more fruitful than certainty.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]


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