Lula vs Bolsonaro: A clash of titans in Brazil

Lula vs Bolsonaro: A clash of titans in Brazil

If ever there were a knock-down, drag-out, heavyweight clash of populist titans brewing — this is going to be it.

A Brazilian court on Monday overturned a 2018 corruption conviction against former president Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, clearing the way for the polarizing but immensely popular leftist to run in the 2022 presidential election. If he does, he'll almost certainly be the main challenger for current president Jair Bolsonaro, a bomb-throwing far right populist.

Let's get ready to rumble.


Who is Lula again? The rough-spoken former union boss was president from 2003 to 2011, when a commodities boom enabled him to massively expand state support for the poor while also enjoying one of the headiest periods of economic growth in Brazil's history. His critics, however, accused his Workers Party of graft and incompetence. After he left office the wheels came off — his successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached amid massive protests over corruption, and Lula himself was convicted of graft in a polarizing and politicized trial that occurred just before the 2018 presidential election, preventing him from competing.

His supporters cried foul: he was the most popular candidate at the time. His jailing cleared the way for Jair Bolsonaro to sweep to power on a rightwing populist platform of anti-corruption, strong arm policing, fiscal discipline, and provocative statements about women, gays, and minorities.

Lula is still the most popular politician in Brazil. According to a poll published by the daily O Estado de São Paulo, 50 percent of likely voters would choose Lula, against just 38 percent for Bolsonaro (Portuguese, paywall). But Lula also has a very high rate of disapproval, meaning that, just like with Bolsonaro, people love or hate him in equal measure — there's no middle ground (Spanish).

Brazilians are fed up and deeply polarized. After all the upheavals of the past ten years, Brazilians in general still feel alienated from their leaders, and divisions are deep: a 2019 IPSOS/BBC study found that a third of Brazilians say it's not even worth having a conversation with people who hold opposing political views — only India and South Africa had higher rates of intolerance on that score.

This will be a historic battle. Lula still needs to clear a few more legal hurdles before he can run, but a Lula candidacy would make for a presidential race unlike any other in the world in recent years.

The global resurgence of populism over the past 15 years has tended to pit upstarts from the ideological fringes against centrist political establishments fighting for survival. That was true of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton — and then Joe Biden. It was true of the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, and Mexico's Andres Manuel López Obrador. All of them won (and, in Trump's case, lost) against establishment centrists.

But at no time in recent memory has a country of Brazil's size and clout (it's Latin America's largest economy) seen a face-off between two charismatic populists representing opposite sides of the political spectrum at the same time. What's more, Globo News international affairs commentator Guga Chacra points out, these are two figures who are well known outside of Brazil, meaning there will be a lot of international attention on the race.

Would facing Lula be bad for Bolsonaro? Lula's campaign would likely focus on jobs and inequality, a message that can land well after the economic carnage of the past year. And while Lula still commands broad popularity, Bolsonaro has recently seen his approval ratings fall, in part because of his disastrous handling of the pandemic and vaccine rollout.

But Bolsonaro has some cards to play. His pandemic relief checks have started to eat into Lula's once rock-solid base in the poorer reaches of Brazil's Northeast, Chacra told us.

And more than anything, Bolsonaro is a politician who loves to have enemies, and Lula is his — and his supporters' — greatest political nemesis. A Bolsonaro-Lula matchup would quickly become an ideological and cultural war reflecting deep rifts within Brazilian society.

And that, for better or worse, is the type of fight in which both of these populist titans can land an awful lot of punches.

Meet Zoe Marshall, grandmother, fishmonger, and thriving business owner.

https://ad.doubleclick.net/ddm/trackimp/N6024.4218512GZEROMEDIA/B26379324.311531246;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=

When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.

Learn more about Zoe and her story.

Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

More Show less

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

More Show less

For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

More Show less

Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal