Lula's drama … and ours

Image: Carrie Johnson


Lula will have to govern dealing with an ultra-reactionary congress

A video of former President Lula that I received on my cell phone moved me a lot. He himself spoke with great emotion. It reminded me of the shiver that went down my back (along with a lot of rain) when I heard him speak, for the first time in a mass demonstration, at the opening of the campaign for Diretas Já in 1984. It was emotion in the vein in the best style of a great orator . But as I reflected on the content, I became concerned.

What did Lula say? That she was not wanting to preside over the country to serve Faria Lima, the market, the elites concerned about the spending ceiling. What about the salary cap? The income ceiling of the poorest Brazilians? The cap on health and education spending? Lula said he wanted to be president again to remedy all the evils that had accumulated over the Brazilian people: hunger, indebtedness, unemployment and underemployment, the lack of decent housing, and many other things.

It is a necessary program, without a doubt, given the immense needs of the great mass of our population. But this is exactly the drama, how to respond to so many urgent demands left by Michel Temer and, above all, by Jair Bolsonaro? Lula has no way of making money and the public coffers are devastated by the mismanagement, the pandemic and the outpouring of money spent by the energetic to try to get re-elected. Public indebtedness broke records and compromised the next government heavily.

On the other hand, Lula will have to govern dealing with an ultra-reactionary congress, where the root Bolsonarism has a significant force and the Centrão even more. In addition, Congress is empowered by the fragility of the Bolsonaro government and has learned to blackmail the executive. It was already difficult to govern in good times, with the House and Senate controlled by conservative forces, but now it will be worse, much worse. Times are and will continue to be tough for the economy, reflecting our recent past and the present and future of the world economy.

In this context, the program defended so well by Lula in his live will not be applicable. And with so many promises from the candidate and so many urgent demands from the population, it won't be easy to explain to the most screwed up that the cursed inheritance does not allow them to serve them, or that congress conspires against the government. Lula will have to seek a form of governance and negotiate with the legislature in a weakened position, including for a narrow victory in the second round.

The government agenda will have to be established, attracting all non-Bolsonarist forces in Congress and this means a much more modest agenda than the promises of the speech in the live or in campaign advertising. The clash will have to start with a difficult negotiation of a profound tax reform, to get the executive off the ropes and allow an effort of state investment in essential axes such as food, health and education, and the resumption of the government's managerial capacity to generate public policies fundamental. The State is lacking in personnel and operational resources in all the ministries, and rebuilding the apparatus will be costly.

Agreements with the center and with the non-Bolsonarist right will be brakes on the executive's action needs to face the inherited debacle, but there is no other way to survive in government. Let us remember that impeachment threats are now a sword of Damocles over the heads of rulers.

Lula is an essentially pragmatic politician and a fantastic negotiator and aggregator, but he will need all his skill to extract something favorable to the people in his four years in office. He will not be able to govern alone, or mainly with his PT base, and the left and center-left alliances, which make up just over a quarter of the votes in the Chamber and even less in the Senate. He will have to bring parties like the MDB, PSDB, União Brasil, PDS and other smaller ones like Citizenship or Solidarity into the government. We know that this has already been done in the Lula and Dilma governments, including bringing Centrão parties to the ministries. But in the current scenario, the correlation of forces is different. These parties will not sell themselves at retail and will want to participate in power in a more integrated way.

What scared me about the content of Lula's statement quoted above was its coincidence with Rui Falcão's interview a few days ago, saying that "they want Lula to govern with an ideology that is not the PT's". I hope that Lula is clearer than Rui Falcão, the brutal fact of the correlation of forces and the fact that almost half of Lula's voters (45%, according to Quaest) do not bet on him and his proposals, but against Jair Bolsonaro and his threats to democracy. Lula will have to govern walking on eggshells and on a razor's edge.

To begin with, not having formulated a minimum program of essential measures to be taken by the government, including pointing to the budget difficulties to be faced in a profound tax reform, weakened the campaign and compromised the immediate future. Promising heaven on earth without saying how it will be done may be attractive to an important part of the electorate, but frightens another part. Worse still, this creates unrealistic expectations and can lead to frustration and demands from the population.

Let us remember Dilma Rousseff's re-election campaign and her attempt at fiscal adjustment in 2015. In less than a year, the president's popularity had dropped from 50,5% of votes received to 13% of approval in the polls. And it continued to fall until it was overthrown by the parliamentary coup. Falling without reaction from the militancy that had carried it in triumph in the final turn of the 2014 elections.

Lula will have to define this minimum program a posteriori of the electoral process and paying a price in difficulties that are only not worse because the anti-Bolsonaro sentiment is very strong. It's not going to be a PT-style program, whatever that is. It will be the face of the government front that Lula will have to assemble and where the PT will not be the hegemonic force of the good times of previous governments.

The essential points of this program will have to be disclosed and discussed in society, in order to gather support beyond the parties in Congress, but it cannot go beyond what these parties approve.

Without a lot of money to spend, it will be necessary to decide wisely and efficiently where to invest and how to apply the investment. There is no doubt that the immediate social priorities will continue to be the fight against hunger and malnutrition, the recovery of the entire educational system (in cooperation with states and municipalities), the recovery of the SUS and all health policies, and investments in infrastructures that have been dammed for a long time and that can generate an immediate effect in the generation of jobs.

There are other urgent issues for which it will be necessary to bring part of the few existing resources or to invent ways of raising money to attend to them. One of them is scientific research, which does not win votes or have an immediate effect on the population, but which means a lot for the future of the country. There are 44 billion lost resources (which were already limited) in just 10 years. Rehabilitating labs and hiring scientists will cost a lot. Where to get this money?

On the other hand, investment in controlling environmental destruction is also not a concern of the majority of the population, but it is a basic need for us to have a habitable country and world in the future. Fortunately, this theme has enormous international repercussions and the possibility of receiving substantial financial support for zero deforestation policies and large-scale reforestation is very great.

As for agendas for deeper changes in Brazilian society, I believe that it will not be possible to advance in these years of recovery of essential and immediate things. But it is possible to start a consistent process of transformation of the Brazilian agro in the path of environmental and social sustainability. A program to promote agroecology linked to family farming, accompanied by an environmental responsibility policy for agribusiness are possible things, although their results are not immediate.

For left-wing militants who know that the country and the people need much deeper reforms, what we essentially gained with Lula's victory is time to organize the people and freedom to demand more consequential policies. To think that Lula will be able to do much more than recover the devastated land left by Bolsonaro and that his peers in Congress will move heaven and earth to maintain it is a dangerous illusion.

The statements by Rui Falcão and Lula, cited above, show that they are not in tune with the reality of the correlation of forces, nor with the very negative context in which we find ourselves. Perhaps the magnitude and enthusiasm of the numerous mass demonstrations of recent weeks is going to our leaders' heads. But I repeat again what I have written for some time.

People on the street in electoral demonstrations is important, but it does not decide the election. A cool head indicates that, today, those who are sensitive to the movements of opinion that could decide the parade are, on the one hand, Simone Tebet and, on the other, André Janones, Felipe Neto and Boulos. When Tebet points to the inconvenience of the widespread use of red in demonstrations, what she is translating is the feeling of the 45% of Lula's supporters who have restrictions on the PT. Even more, she is trying to show those who hesitate to vote for Lula that the next government will not be a “blank check” for the PT.

Symbols are very strong things in politics and we shouldn't despise them. If the PT were less corporate than it has always shown itself to be, it would have understood that it does not win alone and that its recent and former allies resent its hegemony.

Once again, although I believe it is very difficult for Bolsonaro to turn around or find 5 million votes in 9 days, the gigantic means that he is using, inside and outside electoral legality, indicate that we cannot fall into the temptation of saying that “we have our hand in the cup”. Everything will depend on the size of the abstention and where it will be greater. And let's get ready to fight for the right to vote, because I think the Bolsominion militias are already preparing to disturb the elections.

The order to surround and occupy the polling stations until the end of the count has already been given. And it is not difficult to concentrate attacks and intimidation in the sections where Lula had more votes in the first round and prevent the process. Which side will the police be on? And, in the many places where they were called up, the soldiers of the army?

Day by day we have to spend saliva and shoe soles and fingers on keyboards. There is no holiday or rest. We are at photochart and I don't want to see Jair Bolsonaro's face in front of Lula's nose in the final stretch.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

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