From Prisoner to Brazil’s President-Elect: the Comeback of Lula
“They tried to bury me alive, and I’m here”.
That’s what Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, said in a triumphant
speech after his close-run victory over Jair Bolsonaro this month, establishing his
political “resurrection” and heralding the so-called “pink tide”.
From being in a jail cell four years ago to winning the highest office in Brazil this
October, the president-elect’s comeback story is like no other.
So who is Brazil’s new president, and what makes his victory so significant?
The 76-year-old politician has been a forerunner in Brazilian politics for over two
decades, taking office for the first time in 2003.
Lula has a humble background, though. He grew up in a low-income family in northeast
Brazil, only achieving a middle school education. He began working at a very young
age, eventually ending up in the metal industry, where he first became involved in union
organisation. In the 1970s, he participated in strikes against the military dictatorship, and
in 1980, he helped found Brazil’s Workers’ Party.
During Lula’s presidency, representing the Workers’ Party, he successfully expanded
social welfare programs, raised the minimum wage, and greatly expanded Brazil's
economy. Being described as “one of the most popular politicians on Earth” by former
president Barack Obama, he left office in 2010 with an outstanding 83% approval rating.
Despite his popularity and successes, Lula’s time in office was marred by numerous
public political scandals. Two of the largest were Operation Car Wash, an investigation
into the dealing of state-owned oil company Petrobras, and the Workers’ Party monthly
After leaving office in 2010, the former president’s reputation took a significant hit.
Federal prosecutors investigated a vast corruption scheme involving the ex-president,
and he was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 for allegedly accepting a
bribe. This conviction prevented Lula from running for the 2018 elections and gave way
for far-right Jair Bolsonaro to win. However, Lula claimed these charges were politically
motivated, which gained credibility when the judge who convicted him became
In 2021, after serving over a year in prison, Brazil’s Supreme Court overruled Lula’s
conviction on the grounds that his right to a fair trial had been compromised, which was
agreed to by the UN’s human rights council. This annulment cleared his path to run for
reelection against Bolsonaro in the 2022 election this October.
Incumbent Bolsanaro heavily challenged Lula in the recent election. The two
candidates’ political views are poles apart, with Lula representing the leftist Workers’
Party and Bolsonaro representing the far-right Liberal Party. Consequently, the voter
division made this election extremely controversial with record-breaking voter turnout.
One of the most prominent points of division is climate change. Over the last four years,
Bolsanaro has evidently allowed increased commercial destruction of the Amazon
rainforest. On the other hand, Lula has explicitly expressed his opposing viewpoint in
his campaign, calling for “a new world of governance” to address climate change, with
Brazil playing an integral role.
On October 2 the first round of voting began, resulting in a narrow win for Lula with 48.4
percent of the vote compared to Bolsanaro’s 43.2 percent. The remainder was divided
among the other nine candidates. Clearly, the race was close, exhibiting the nation’s
In light of the fact that neither candidate reached the 50% threshold, a runoff election
was precluded on October 30. Once again the result was extremely close, but Lula was
the victor taking 51% of the vote.
After Lula’s victory, Bolsanaro’s Liberal Party challenged the outcome of the electoral
vote by claiming certain voting machines were compromised, despite a lack of proof. The
party asked the electoral court to reject the ballots from said machines.
The court decisively ruled the liberal party’s challenge as “offensive” to democratic
norms, ordering an investigation into the party and blocking political funds until a fine is
paid. The party has yet to do this.
The Future of Brazil
With Lula’s inauguration coming up on January 1, his biggest challenge may now be
healing a politically fractured nation.
Bolsonaro supporters have taken it as far as to block highways in protest of Lula’s
victory. In a video taken in the state of Santa Catarina a Bolsanaro supporter said “we
will only leave once the army takes over the country”.
With 58 million Bolsonaro voters, the incoming president will consequently need to
prioritise the rebuilding of relationships, addressing the entire population, not only his
base of voters.
Enacting his agenda may prove to be an uphill battle as well. The seats that were
previously right are now occupied by the far-right, who are not open to negotiation. Lula
will be faced with adversity in office over the next four years, and the policy he will be
able to implement may be minimal. Only time will tell.
The “Pink Tide” Movement
Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Chile, and Colombia have all had leftist
candidates win elections in recent years, echoing a similar regional political shift seen
two decades earlier. Many people feel Lula’s victory marks this symbolic shift and the
beginnings of a revived pink tide movement.
Despite a possible shift to leftism in the region as a whole, Brazil is evidently divided
after the recent election. Given the current political environment, whether or not Brazil
truly represents this shift is questionable. It all lies in Lula’s hands in the next four years.