LESSONS FROM THE BRAZILIAN ELECTION
On 31 October 2022, Lula Da Silva won the Brazilian election run off by a close but decisive victory against his incumbent rival Jair Bolsonaro. Two candidates represented two opposite and yet powerful approaches to democracy and state in modern world politics, which can be described as legally binding and more institutionalized democracy on one hand and a personal and “legal-binds phobic” populist approach on the other hand. In the case of Brazil, Lula has positioned himself as the representative of the former approach, whereas Bolsonaro, although refusing such accusations, became the characteristic representative of the latter. With his success, Lula once again proved that Populist discourse is not an unchallengeable tackle for democracies. Now that the power transition process has officially been started, it would be beneficial to point out what Lula did right during his campaign and take a lesson from it.
Broadening The Front Strategically
Lula, who is traditionally a left-wing politician, set his election campaign strategy on shaping an overarching coalition against what has been successfully “demonized” in terms of its immense threat to democracy as “Bolsonarismo”, a unique form of populism in Bolsonaro’s political attitude. His coalition even included his former center-right opponents who were set against Bolsonaro’s far-right politics. In line with this strategy, he pointed Geraldo Alckmin as his Vice President and tried to convince financial markets about possible positive changes with him winning the race. He also showed his eagerness to once again bring Brazil back to the international arena as an important actor just as it was before Bolsonaro’s rule. Lula took a firm stance against Bolsonaro’s Amazon policy and promised to pay special attention to the indigenous people and reforestation of the Amazon. To some experts, Lula’s success largely stems from appealing to different interest groups and showing eagerness to solve problems in cooperation.
2. Power of a Well-Shaped Campaign
Politics is a field of energy, vibrant meetings, full of supporters cheering and hoping their candidate would win the election. Thus, launching a well-shaped campaign can open the door to victory. During his presidential campaign, Lula heavily relied on his past achievements when he was in charge of the office (2003-2011), promising that the "good old days" will come back with his rule. Economic boost that changed millions of Brazilian's life not too long ago under Lula’s PT added to his credibility among Brazilians. He also performed well dealing with the corruption accusations, defending himself by the fact that he had been acquitted by the supreme court of the country.
3. Charisma Is An Essential
Finally, another key element that set the stage for the 77-year-old politician’s win has been his undeniable charisma. Although charisma is mostly deemed as a feature to search for in a populist politician’s character, the Brazilian election showed us that to win against a charismatic leader like Bolsonaro you need to have an equally charismatic leader on your side. I would argue that this is a vital feature for every political leader, whether it be a populist or a conventional politician. As a former union leader who has spent all his life on the stage appealing to huge crowds, he can consolidate support around him by giving fiery speeches in which he inspires trust. Therein lies his power to not be dominated, confronting a populist rival.
Contrary to the tendency among most scholars and party elites in different countries around the world to raise normative debates against popularism, trying to “save democracy”, The Brazilian Elections showed a crystal-clear way for the matter which is summarized above. It seems like encountering a politically strong method of communication with voters such as populism requires an equally powerful political method, which includes having a charismatic leader who is talented enough to shape a right and wide coalition, then convince voters of a better future with his/her rule. Time will tell if Lula would manage to bring back the “good old days”, but the lessons we learned from the 2022 Brazilian Elections certainly need to be taken into account for every anti-populist politician around the world.
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