The Workers’ Party future, now with Lula

. Nov 22, 2019
The Workers' Party future, after Lula release Photo: Paulo Pinto/FP

This weekend, the center-left Workers’ Party embarks on its first party conference since former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the political group’s ultimate leader, was released from jail. While the three-day event is unlikely to result in any concrete changes within the party, many will be paying attention to key figures during the convention in an attempt to answer the million-dollar question in Brazilian politics today: with Lula out of jail, how will the Workers’ Party, and the opposition as a whole, behave?

</p> <p>Lula was benefited by a Supreme Court ruling on the possibility of defendants beginning to serve their prison sentences before they have exhausted all of their appeals. As the former president&#8217;s <a href="">corruption</a> and money laundering conviction may still be questioned by the Supreme Court itself, Lula was allowed to leave jail on November 8.</p> <p>Since that date, pundits have been scrambling to analyze what Lula&#8217;s release means for Brazil&#8217;s political conjecture. Some reckon that the former president&#8217;s time in jail has radicalized him, meaning Lula is gearing up for an all-out war of <a href="">polarization with President Jair Bolsonaro</a>, squeezing the political center in the process.</p> <p>Others see Lula as taking a conciliatory stance, establishing a dialogue with the wider left and center in a bid to reclaim the majority ahead of the 2022 presidential election. This is a side of the former president we have seen many times before, jokingly nicknamed &#8220;Peace and Love Lula.&#8221;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Lula, no more &#8216;Mr. Nice Guy&#8217;</h2> <p>Initially, those predicting a more extreme version of the Workers&#8217; Party leader appeared to be correct. In his first speeches upon release from prison, he unleashed a tirade of insults against Jair Bolsonaro and his government of &#8220;militiamen.&#8221; He denounced a &#8220;rotten group&#8221; within the justice system, led by the &#8220;scoundrel&#8221; Sergio Moro, and he dubbed Economy Minister Paulo Guedes as a &#8220;destroyer of dreams.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;I&#8217;m back,&#8221; he declared. &#8220;I&#8217;ve got more courage to fight than when I left [to go to prison].&#8221;</p> <p>However, according to one key member within the Workers&#8217; Party, this belligerent attitude—more &#8216;Fire and Brimstone&#8217; than &#8216;Peace and Love&#8217;—is not set to last. Humberto Costa, the leader of the Workers&#8217; Party in the Senate, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that the former president was simply letting off steam.</p> <p>&#8220;His tone is understandable,&#8221; he said. &#8220;Lula spent almost 600 days in jail and was barred from an election he had a good chance of winning.&#8221; Indeed, when courts ruled to exclude him from the 2018 presidential race, Lula led all opinion polls ahead of Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>&#8220;He feels he&#8217;s been the victim of injustice, so this outpouring of frustration is natural,&#8221; explained Mr. Costa. &#8220;But I don&#8217;t think this tone will continue.&#8221;</p> <p>Indeed, after two weeks on the outside, we are already seeing a gradual softening in Lula&#8217;s discourse. In an <a href="">interview to <em>The Guardian</em> journalist Sam Cowie</a> published on Friday, the former president said he regretted Brazil was becoming a place where &#8220;spreading hate is becoming part of people’s daily lives.&#8221;</p> <p>Using an analogy of two popular São Paulo football teams, Lula said he is a Corinthians supporter, &#8220;but I can’t fight with a Palmeiras fan, I have to learn to live with him.”</p> <h2>Speak to politicians, speak to the people</h2> <p>Having served as Brazil&#8217;s president between 2003 and 2010, Lula&#8217;s political success is often accredited to two main platforms: speaking to his large popular social base, and his skillful mediating of competing political interests in Brasilia. Lula&#8217;s governments were characterized by the politics of consensus and compromise. He chose experienced conservative businessman José Alencar as his vice-president in 2002, and got into bed with the shapeshifting center-right Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party during his second term, as a way of guaranteeing a powerful majority in Congress.</p> <p>Those gambling on a more &#8220;conciliatory&#8221; Lula were vindicated by the news that the former president intends to sit down with House Speaker Rodrigo Maia—from the center-right Democratas party—as well as other centrist groups. The evaluation of the Workers&#8217; Party in Congress is that these parties could be coaxed into some form of democratic alliance with Lula. &#8220;The center has been voting with the government [on its economic reforms],&#8221; said Humberto Costa, &#8220;but it has no integration with Jair Bolsonaro.&#8221;</p> <p>However, while the corridors of Brasilia are Lula&#8217;s old stomping ground, the influx of first-term politicians in last year&#8217;s election means that the former president may find the political arena in the capital unrecognizable.</p> <p>&#8220;The relationship Lula used to have with Congress is no longer the same,&#8221; says Mr. Costa. &#8220;But he can still establish a dialogue with the MDB, for example.&#8221; It is for this reason, says the Senate whip, that the Workers&#8217; Party will focus primarily on speaking to the population.</p> <p>Mr. Costa says the party&#8217;s challenge is to preserve Lula&#8217;s existing social base, while also turning attention to the majority of the electorate. &#8220;One-third of the population is neither on the left or with Jair Bolsonaro. We have to speak to these people too.&#8221;</p> <h2>Bad blood on the left</h2> <p>With regard to political strategy, the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s first objective is to solidify its presence in next year&#8217;s municipal elections. With this in mind, the party has sought to construct a broad left and center-left front, not ruling out supporting candidates from other left-leaning groups in 2020&#8217;s vote.</p> <p>This plan, however, comes up against one key obstacle in the form of Ciro Gomes, the president of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT). A candidate in the 2018 election, Mr. Gomes didn&#8217;t receive the backing of Lula and the Workers&#8217; Party and was left feeling betrayed. In the leadup to the election&#8217;s crucial second round, Mr. Gomes traveled to Paris and refused to campaign for Workers&#8217; Party candidate Fernando Haddad against the far-right Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Speaking to the press last week, Ciro Gomes called Lula a &#8220;snake charmer,&#8221; who works on the presumption that &#8220;people are ignorant.&#8221;</p> <p>Despite this open war Mr. Gomes has waged against the Workers&#8217; Party and Lula, Senator Costa is quick to point out that his party&#8217;s plans for a broad left front do, in fact, include the PDT. &#8220;Ciro [Gomes] is clashing with the Workers&#8217; Party, but whenever we have been facing the government, [the PDT] has stood with us.&#8221;</p> <h2>Lula 2022?</h2> <p>By the time the next presidential election comes around in 2022, Lula will be 77 years old. But this has not dissuaded advance talks of the former head of state running for a third term in three years&#8217; time.</p> <p>The clear problem with this plan is that Lula is ineligible for public office due to his corruption conviction. A habeas corpus questioning the impartiality of former federal judge Sergio Moro—which Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> will go to trial before the end of the year—could see Lula&#8217;s conviction annulled and his political rights restored. However, the sheer number of criminal cases against him means it is unlikely that Lula would make it to 2022 without another conviction to rule him out of the election race once more.</p> <p>According to Humberto Costa, however, the Workers&#8217; Party isn’t dismissing this option just yet. &#8220;Any party with someone as powerful as Lula has to consider him as the first choice. We have other options, but our first priority will be to try and redeem Lula&#8217;s political rights.&#8221; 

Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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