The Brazilian political sphere received an unexpected jolt this week, when a Supreme Court justice ruled to quash all criminal convictions against leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and restore his political rights. While a long way away, the decision sets up a heavyweight title fight in October 2022, when Lula is expected to face Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential election.
Despite efforts to portray them as such, Lula and Brazil’s far-right president are not two sides of the same coin. While they do represent dramatically different ideological positions, Bolsonaro has repeatedly shown contempt for democracy and denied the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, something which cannot be said to the same degree about Lula.
On Wednesday, in his first public appearance since the decision, Lula delivered an address to the press and his supporters, declaring the importance of vaccination and a coherent national health response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This firm messaging against the coronavirus has been lacking in Brazil, where the scarce support the government has shown for anti-Covid-19 measures has always been littered with caveats and uncertainties.
And Lula’s speech caused immediate effects. Not long after the former president finished answering journalists’ questions, the incumbent head of state began his own impromptu press conference. In Brasília, Jair Bolsonaro and several cabinet ministers stood before the media wearing masks — which have been ignored by the government for months — and stressing the importance of vaccination.
On social media, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, urged his supporters to share and republish an image of his father accompanied by the words “our weapon is the vaccine.”
In a matter of a couple of days, Lula’s return to the political game has already caused dramatic changes. And there are many more to come before the 2022 election.