SÃO PAOLO, Brazil — The Brazilian people have rejected a right-wing onslaught and handed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a decisive re-election as president. In one of the most contentious presidential elections in Brazilian history, the right wing and its media system furiously pushed its candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, hoping to regain the power it lost in 2002.
However, the Brazilian people, showing political determination, depth and sophistication, stopped this conservative blitzkrieg and emerged as the biggest winners.
It was a stunning victory. Lula received 61 percent of the vote in the Oct. 29 runoff — 58 million votes, 20 million more than Alckmin. In the first round of voting, Oct. 1, Lula had fallen just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Lula, a former factory worker, heads the left-wing Workers Party. First elected in 2002, his administration has sought economic policies that encouraged growth while limiting privatization of the public sector and other neoliberal measures.
In fact, the election at its essence was a contest between two different visions for Brazil. One, represented by Alckmin, embraces the neoliberal program (better-known in the U.S. as “free trade”), which places government firmly on the side of business interests to maximize profit at the expense of the poor, workers, the environment, public regulation and accountability. Lula represents another vision, fueled by the majority of the poor, landless peasants, workers, farmers, small business people and students — in short, a left-center coalition opposed to economic and social policies imposed by free-trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA and for policies and government programs that alleviate crushing poverty.
More than 60 percent of the voters approved of Lula’s vision and expressed confidence that his second term will take bolder steps to fulfill the social justice economic program of increasing income for the poor.
Voters thoroughly rejected privatization — the handing over of tax dollars, government-run companies and public agencies to the private sector — a hallmark of neo-liberalism.
The free-trade or neoliberal outlook represented by Alckmin affects foreign policy as well, and this was also part of the election debate. Alckmin made clear that he prefers a Brazil that is dependent and subservient to the demands of the U.S. Lula’s campaign reaffirmed his commitment to strengthen Brazil’s sovereignty and the economic and social development of Latin America. Lula’s re-election is thus important beyond Brazil’s borders.
With their votes, the Brazilian people said “stop” to the right-wing coup attempt in the media, which abused the public with its manipulations and lies. The election should be a lesson to the arrogant editors and columnists of the national press who have said they know better than the people do.
The election runoff radicalized and energized the voters. Lula’s re-election means an explicit mandate to accelerate reforms, and his administration carries a strong majority to guarantee that the reform projects succeed.