Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched his presidential campaign on Saturday, vowing to rebuild Brazil after what he dubbed far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro’s “irresponsible and criminal” regime.
Lula (2003-2010) made a dramatic political comeback with the opening of his campaign, four years after he was imprisoned on contentious corruption accusations.
“We’re ready to work not only to win the election on October 2,” the charismatic but tainted steelworker-turned-politician said at a rally in Sao Paulo, standing in front of a massive Brazilian flag.
In his signature gravelly voice, he claimed Bolsonaro — whom he did not name — had turned Brazil into a “pariah” through divisive policies, attacks on democratic institutions, and rampant deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
“We must alter Brazil once more… We need to get back to a situation where no one dares to challenge democracy. “We need to return fascism to the sewer of history, where it belongs,” he told a roaring gathering of thousands, urging “all democrats” to join him.
Lula’s entry into the campaign, which does not formally begin until August, was scarcely surprising given his long — though dwindling — advantage in the polls.
He’s been running an unofficial campaign since the Supreme Court overturned his corruption convictions, which had kept him out of politics.
The decision immediately cast this year’s elections as a divisive showdown between arch-rivals Lula and Bolsonaro.
After presiding over a golden period that brought 30 million Brazilians out of poverty, Lula left office with an approval rating of 87 percent.
The sweeping probe “Operation Car Wash,” which discovered a vast corruption scheme centered on state-run oil company Petrobras, brought the onetime shoeshine boy’s towering legacy crashing down.
Lula was convicted on bribe-taking allegations and imprisoned from April 2018 until November 2019 – missing the 2018 presidential election, which Bolsonaro won.
Lula returned to the ring with the immediate status of front-runner in a Brazil badly divided over Bolsonaro’s aggressive manner, social media polemics, poor economic performance, and chaotic administration of Covid-19.
However, in recent polls, Bolsonaro, 67, has narrowed the margin — and made it obvious that he will not relinquish power without a struggle.
Meanwhile, Lula has made a number of recent gaffes, including politically insensitive remarks about abortion, the police, and the middle class.
He’s also appeared out of touch with international leaders he wants to meet again, stating things like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is “as responsible as” Russia’s Vladimir Putin for the Ukraine conflict.
Lula’s campaign team has apparently been shook up recently, with long-time ally Franklin Martins being replaced as communications director.
“He has made several disastrous statements in recent weeks,” Sylvio Costa, founder of news site Congresso em Foco, told AFP.
“And, above all, Lula needs to go to the street.”
The founder of the Workers’ Party claimed he will now do exactly that, traveling around the country to meet with “the people.”
Lula spoke at his rally wearing a sharp navy suit with his shirt open at the collar, rather than speaking off the cuff as he usually does.
However, he lacked real planks for his platform.
“Instead of promises, I present our administration’s enormous legacy,” he remarked.
Lula has chosen Geraldo Alckmin, a market-friendly moderate who ran against him in the 2006 presidential election, as his running mate, in order to court the wary business sector and develop a broad base.
“Today, Brazil has the most destructive and brutal administration it has ever had.” “Lula is our only hope,” Alckmin, a former governor of Sao Paulo who was home with a mild case of Covid-19, said through video link to the protest.
Odilon da Silva Freire, a 63-year-old retiree who was cheering on the seasoned communist, concurred.
He said, “Lula governed for everyone, especially the poor.”
“He ought to run for president again.” He’s the most talented person we’ve ever had.”