Brazil’s Donald Trump has a challenger. Jair Bolsonaro is preparing to take on his predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in what will be the socialist’s sixth run at office. But if the flamboyant Bolsonaro is Trump, does that make Lula the Brazilian Biden?
Part of the reason Trump lost was his erratic response to the Covid crisis. In Brazil, Covid policies are mostly set at the local level. But Bolsonaro has been pilloried in the press for opposing shutdowns, appearing at rallies without masks or social distancing, and promoting chloroquine and Ivermectin as treatments. He refuses to get vaccinated. He has also done himself no favours with impatient and petulant answers to journalists’ questions about the pandemic. He comes off sounding uncompassionate.
Lula is eager to capitalise, calling Bolsonaro an ‘agent of genocide’ in a recent interview. However, the average Brazilian voter may not care much about this issue. Bolsonaro reached the highest approval rating of his presidency (41 per cent) in the autumn of 2020, when the pandemic was raging. He had started handing out emergency subsidies to the poor. When the government ran out of money and the subsidies stopped, Bolsonaro’s approval rating dropped again.
Moreover, Brazil has now achieved a respectable vaccination rate — despite Bolsonaro’s public refusal to get jabbed. Clearly, his views on the topic don’t have much sway.
Lula, who was recently released from jail, was born into poverty but rose to prominence in the 1970s as a radical trade union leader. He unsuccessfully ran for president in 1989, 1994, and 1998. Tired of losing, he underwent a makeover. Lula adopted a more business-friendly tone and finally got elected. He appointed orthodox economists to influential positions in his government and engaged in a fair amount of privatisation.