Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s much-predicted poll win wears a halo of darkness. Challenges are galore before Lula, Brazil’s next president. The Brazil of today is not what Lula had left behind in December 2010. Haunted by hunger, Brazil is cash-starved, though not bankrupt. Bolsonaro, the sexagenarian president and elected-autocrat, is yet to accept his defeat. Nevertheless, the left-leaning Lula is gearing up to take over. The 58-million Brazilians are now looking forward with prayers on their lips, questions on their minds and fears in their heavy hearts.

Dropping Subtle Hints

Largely, the fears are because the far-right Bolsonaro and his agonising 4-year reign are too notorious to forget easily. Bolsonaro continues to possess Brazilians as an inexorcisable ghost. They dread Bolsonaro, who made a major show of his autocratic instincts repeatedly, and feel he may not transfer power and bow out with grace. Confirming their fears, Bolsonaro and his ever-loyal Bolsonaristas dropped subtle hints about rigged polls and manipulated results.

They went about questioning the integrity of voting machines used in the polls. They took particular delight in insinuating the democratic process was stage-managed. There were attempts to allude to a ‘stolen’ election, a la Donald Trump. Despite total lack of irrefutable evidence of electoral fraud and tampered electronic voting machines, since their introduction in 1996, Bolsonaro had no qualms about casting such aspersions. This is why, despite his assurance on smooth transfer of power, Brazilians nurse doubts over Bolsonaro’s intentions.

Tacit Acceptance of Defeat

Nursing doubts for many other reasons. The presidential poll campaign was nasty enough to qualify as the worst ever in modern Brazil. Rapid-fire personal attacks flew about unhindered. Partisan violence punctuated the pre-poll propaganda without let. In fact, these toxic distractions ensured Bolsonaro lost. Such was his loss, Lula has won with the widest ever margin of 1.8 percentage points.

Though this is a verdict against a divisive and populist doctrine, Bolsonaro is yet to concede in public and acknowledge his defeat. Such opacity and reticence exhibited by Bolsonaro could be a camouflage for a Capitol Hill-like insurrection he may be planning.  Quite likely because Lula has won the presidential polls twice, between 2003 and 2010, and this is sufficient ground enough for infuriating a disgraced and conniving Bolsonaro.

Polarised More Than Ever

Brazilians are thus a worried lot today. They are concerned about the deleterious effects a Bolsonaro-authored civil unrest would have on their economy. The Brazilian economy, which is already down, could then land in the dumps. Besieged by such fears, Lula is sure to find managing a panicky Brazil formidable and concentrating on Brazil’s rebuilding difficult. In a worse scenario, an impatient and power-hungry Bolsonaro could end up feeding Brazil to flames of unending violence.

These possible scenarios confront both Lula and his Brazil with uncertain economic future. ‘Uncertain future’ is an understatement. In fact, Lula will have to manage a Brazil, divided and polarised more than ever. Waiting on the threshold is Bolsonaro, an unscrupulous autocrat hungering for power and preparing to launch deadlier attacks on Lula and the democratic process which has brought him back. Bolsonaro continues to swear by his own phoney accusations of Lula being a Satanist and a communist.

Propensity to Draw Blood

Such is Bolsonaro’s all-consuming hunger for power, he will not hesitate to kill his own people for his personal gains. He has demonstrated time and again his willingness to kill to make his power unchallenged. Last year alone, Bolsonaro was responsible for seven politically-inspired murders. During the polls, Bolsonaristas went on to prove they too are bloodthirsty. This propensity to draw blood will soon spill on the pages of Brazil’s tattered balance sheet.

Tattered because Lula is inheriting a bedraggled economy. Brazil is quite indebted today. The embattled nation continues to struggle under the suffocating consequences of a contagious global recession and unvanquished pandemic. Despite commodity prices perking up due to the war in Ukraine, Brazil’s public finances are in bad shape. Without doubt, Brazil is gasping for oxygen now, as relief offered by bullish commodity prices is at best temporary. The fact Brazil is in the intensive care unit is a huge worry, huge enough to make any temporary respite inconsequential.

A Green Protagonist Needed

Lulu should thus move fast to appoint a far-sighted finance minister. Lulu should resist all anti-privatisation thinking among his supporters. He should convince Brazilians the best way to invigorate Brazil is to open up its economy and usher in economic reforms, though they may appear too socialistic for the short-sighted. He needs to calm the markets, soon after his takeover, and reassure global investors economic reforms would not be reversed. He needs to walk the talk by resisting the anti-reformist lobby, come what may.

Indisputably, Brazilians need today a green protagonist with a strong commitment to fight the twin monsters of deforestation and climate change. Imperatively, Lulu should thus reverse Bolsonaro’s anti-environment policies which did precipitate the annihilation of the Amazon rainforest. Alongside, Lulu needs to null Bolsonaro’s anti-health measures which worsened the post-pandemic effects. He needs to realise these anti-health measures had left almost 700,000 dead, without any hope in Brazil.

Frustrate Polarisation Attempts

Lula should appreciate he has a tough economic job to do. His immediate focus should be on uniting the country, filling its divisive cracks and rallying his people under the banners of domestic peace and Brazilian brotherhood. Losing no time, he should realise his democratic mission comes before his economic task. Brazilians hope, as a former metallurgist and a trade unionist, Lula knows he should be of a stronger metal now.

Quite comforting, Brazilians heard Lula’s victory speech underscoring these imperatives. Lula will be the president for 216 million Brazilians, both for those who voted for him and who didn’t. This is why he needs to commit himself to the democratic cause. Such a commitment would be a right start for a change-thirsting Brazil. Lula needs to reassure all religious groups he will rise above religion-coated politics, frustrate attempts to polarise the Brazilian society and make Brazil a safe nation for all communities. Thus, Lula can prove all anti-church propaganda Bolsonaro unleashed against him was wrong.

Right Way to Reward Brazilians

Towards building such a secular Brazilian society, Lula will have to explore amicable and inclusive avenues to work with the opposition and the Congress, why, with Bolsonaro and his lawless army of Bolsonaristas as well. While doing this, Lula needs to eschew divisive considerations which prevent stakeholders in Brazilian democracy from coming together to work for the common good. Undoubtedly, Lula should administer lethal doses of poison to kill graft, corruption and financial impropriety in Brazilian society and politics.

This is why Lula needs extra caution while picking his ministers. Brazilians expect Lula to select for his ministry people who will not be swayed by partisan loyalties and party politics. Above all, Lula has to prove incidents of corruption, as the one which befogged his career and threw him into prison for a total of 580 days in 2018-19, do not occur again. Slaying the monster of corruption should be Lula’s foremost priority. Doing so would be the right way to reward Brazilians who have entrusted him with the top job. If ushering in a single currency for Latin America is Lula’s pet project, let Lula relegate it to the background for the moment.

Make Consensus and not Controversies

The road ahead is thus challenging for Lulu and it will not be an easy journey. Considering he won with a slender lead, 50.90 per cent of the votes vis-à-vis Bolsonaro’s 49.10 per cent, Lula will have to realise he is wearing a crown of thorns and he has inherited a divided Brazil, with a sly and hungry Bolsonaro waiting at his door. Come what may, Lula should commit himself to Brazil’s peace and unity, welfare and prosperity.

Such a commitment calls for Lula accepting consensus, not controversies, as his mantra. Most Brazilians think Lula, the former shoeshine boy, can do this. This is how Lula and his Workers’ Party have been voted in. If Lula proves Brazilians right, it would be his most ideal thanksgiving and an ode of gratitude to Brazilians, who have voted out a sitting president for the first time in 34 years of Brazilian democracy.

In Conclusion

A Brazil committed to democratic ideals is sure to pave way for improved diplomatic relations with neighbours in Latin America, which had strained under Bolsonaro. What is unmissable here is an unsavoury fact. Currently, in six of the seven large nations in Latin America, left-leaning leaders are in power since 2018. While Europe is moving fast towards the right, Latin America is hurtling towards the left. A classic testimony of how polarised the planet is. Hope Lula remembers he lives on such a planet.